Eatontown council plans to hire two special officers for borough’s schools

EATONTOWN – The Eatontown Borough Council is advertising for two special law enforcement officers who will be stationed in public schools.

The council and the Eatontown Public Schools are developing a shared services agreement for the armed police officers.

Any offers of employment will be conditional until the agreement has been signed by representatives of the municipality and the school district, according to municipal officials.

In April, Police Chief William P. Lucia and Superintendent of Schools Scott McCue advocated for the hiring of two Class III special law enforcement officers (SLEO) beginning in September.

Lucia and McCue said the two officers would rotate among the district’s four schools because the cost to hire four SLEOs is not feasible.

A Class III officer is a retired law enforcement officer, under 65, who previously served as a fully trained, full-time police officer in New Jersey, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.

The issue was discussed during a council meeting on July 27. Before the council members agreed to advertise for candidates, Business Administrator Cherron Rountree explained that the hiring process for Class III officers is lengthy.

Rountree said a candidate must undergo a background check, a psychological check, a physical evaluation and a drug test. She said the process could take more than one month.

As negotiations on the agreement continue with representatives of the school district, Rountree said it was in the council’s best interest to advertise the positions. Anyone who is hired would not begin their in-school duties until the agreement is signed, she said.

“I just wanted to make sure the council was OK with moving forward to advertise for the position and to start bringing in interviews,” Rountree said.

Councilwoman Jasmine Story said the position should be advertised before the agreement is in place. Story said Lucia “has ideas that could slim down” the hiring process, but she did mention those ideas during the meeting.

Councilwoman Jennifer Sherrod asked, “Why would you not want to have successful candidates in place at the time the agreement is approved?”

“The lawyer agrees we need an agreement first,” Story said.

Council President Patricia May Kelly said the council members should agree to begin the hiring process before negotiating a shared services agreement with the school district.

Kelly said “the best candidates” could be hired by other school districts. Candidates would not be hired before a contract is written.

Councilman Al Baginsky said that “in a normal situation,” a shared services agreement should be decided first, but said “it is fine to go ahead with the hiring process ahead of time.”

Rountree apologized to the council and said she did not realize how extensive the hiring process would be and “for not realizing the strongest candidates would be taken by other school districts.”

“(The police chief and I) had a long conversation about concerns last week,” Rountree said. “It would be lovely to have the shared services agreement in place … but we can advertise for the position and go through the process and only offer employment contingent upon the agreement being in place.”

The Class III officers would report to Lucia, who would determine their daily duties and responsibilities.

“I see many things blown off in curriculum because it’s not specific enough …. We have to do our due diligence to make sure this is very clear. Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind,” Councilwoman Tanya Rivera said. “I think the success of this program depends on how well this shared services agreement is developed.”

Previously, Rivera said “implicit bias” could occur by placing law enforcement officers in Eatontown’s public schools.

McCue, the superintendent of schools, said the issue is being examined. A Class III officer’s duty would only be to provide security for students and staff members.

“One of the things that was really important to me was that we survey and interview stakeholders every year,” Rivera said. “We need to ask the students about their experience.”

Mayor Anthony Talerico asked if a survey would be conducted.

Rountree said officials could not discuss the details of the potential shared services agreement in public.

In a follow-up interview on July 31, Rountree said it is not certain how the two officers will rotate among four schools. She said the officers’ placement and daily duties are not included in the agreement and added that the police chief would oversee the officers’ placement and duties.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the council members authorized Rountree to place advertisements seeking Class III police officers.