GREAT BARRINGTON -- A controversial proposal to hire a school resource officer no longer will divide Berkshire Hills Regional School District -- no federal money will be forthcoming.
But the discussion that swirled around the proposal has presented the district with an opportunity to address the issues of school safety and substance abuse.
"I think there were positive things that came out of the grant [submission] that has provoked a lot of conversation and allowed us to explore a lot of ways moving forward," said Superintendent Peter Dillon.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently rejected a COPS grant application submitted on behalf of the district by the Great Barrington Police Department. The application would have subsidized the cost of the school resource officer over a five-year period.
Dillon said the district's application finished 22nd out of 56 submitted statewide. The town of Tewksbury and Amesbury Police Department were the only two recipients in Massachusetts.
The School Committee in May approved the submission of an application, but it also said the officer's hiring would only be discussed if the grant was accepted by the Department of Justice.
School Committee members said the school resource officer, or SRO, could play a key role working with students to curb substance abuse, which surfaced as a concern in light of a survey of high school seniors last spring about alcohol and drug use.
But some community members were concerned about the town's share of the cost -- about $153,000 cost over five years -- and having an armed officer on campus. The grant would have subsidized the cost for the first four years, but the officer's full salary would have to be paid in the final year.
The Finance Committee voted any hire should be subject to a town meeting vote. And it recommended the district should stay within its current budget and shoulder the cost of the officer.
During a public hearing, residents questioned town officials about whether an officer was necessary.
In the months ahead, Dillon said the feedback on the SRO will be helpful. The Health and Wellness Committee and its four subcommittees, which includes one covering substance abuse and sexuality, will benefit.
Alternative options to control substance abuse could be further discussed during budget season and School Committee meetings, Dillon said.
"Every student in the district is connected to and well known by multiple adults," Dillon said. "Whether its formal or the math teacher that might stop by and say hello. I think what we want to do is build the safety net to really support every kid in being successful. We are close to that but it's ongoing."