ACCORD –Trustees of the Rondout Valley Central School District Board of Education were given a training in the use of a “dangerous risk assessment” at their meeting on May 13. Dr. Kevin Smith, a forensic psychiatrist who works with school districts and police departments, provided the training at the request of Superintendent Rosario Agostaro. Smith explained that assessing the potential for dangerous behavior is more effective than attempting to predict specific episodes of violence.
Dr. Kevin Smith uses an acronym, SAD PERSONS, to remember violence risk factors.
“Dr. Smith helped us with two very, very severe situations, including one just one day ago,” Agostaro said of the speaker. “That situation ended positively.” He provided more detail to the board later in the meeting, during executive session.
The major factors that increase that potential, Smith told the board, were present in every school shooter since 1992, when data were first collected on the phenomenon. They include categories so broad as to be nearly meaningless in a school setting, such as age range (13-29) and gender (males are ten times as likely to commit violence as females, and are guilty of all mass murders, Smith said). Other risk factors include mental distress, lack of social supports, use (including abuse) of alcohol and other drugs, and a loss of rational thinking from factors ranging from sleep deprivation to adolescent hormones. Previous violent behavior and availability of weapons are also important factors, but some social factors can be even more troubling: a student who has no significant other, including a recent rejection or break-up, and particularly a child with no attachment to any adult, may be headed for trouble.
“A lack of solid attachment to an adult is a very bad prognostic indicator,” Smith told the board.
While some teachers and administrators were concerned that staff might be encouraged to view students as potential problems, the training provides for most with student contact simply to be aware of the risk factors and report them to the school counselor. The rational is that not every risk factor will present itself to any one observer, and a more highly-trained individual would be better prepared to evaluate the entire picture.
A number of reasons were given for the higher propensity for violence among 13-29-year-olds. Smith explained that their wisdom does not develop as quickly as their bodies, and that hormones peak during these years as the person matures. He referred to the factors collectively as a “trifecta of violent behavior.” He also reminded the board that violent tendencies may also be turned inward, through self-harm and suicide attempts, but that the factors remain largely the same.
Exit poll on tax exemptions discussed
In February, the board considered whether or not to offer new tax exemptions to veterans and the disabled. A number of veterans and a handful of disabled people spoke in favor of the state plan, which would be shouldered by the remaining taxpayers. A smaller number of senior citizens were concerned about the impact on their own tax bills. Ultimately, the board decided not to implement either exemption for the coming tax year, and instead discussed using an exit poll to find out what a wider swath of residents thought about the plans.
One of the challenges is that it’s impossible to predict how these exemptions might play out for other taxpayers. There are records of veterans in the district who have taken a similar exemption from county and town taxes, but with the school bill being so much higher, more veterans may choose to take the exemption. With no similar program for people with disabilities, there’s no way to know how many might take that exemption, should it be offered.
Board members disagreed about how to present the information to voters. For one, as James Ayers pointed out, an effort should have been made to educate the public via local newspapers or the district’s budget newsletter. “I’m disappointed that we failed to educate the public as we agreed,” Ayers said. “We should feel shame on that.”
James Blair pushed for more detail in information available at the polls, but in a “plain language” format that includes estimates of how much the exemptions might cost those not taking them. Business manager Debra Kosinski said that, given the unknowns, such a range would be “difficult to pin down.”
For his part, Michael Redmond argued for less detail, but suggested that the entire text of the proposals also be made available. Rebecca Versace wondered if there might be a way to find out if the poll respondents were at all familiar with the proposed exemptions, which might give board members a means to weigh the data.
The suggestion of a simpler, plainer series of questions was agreed upon, with the district’s web site and Facebook page being suggested as places to post the additional information. As of this writing, no such additional information has been posted.
Solar’s future darkens
Speaking in advance of a meeting of the facilities committee, Redmond said, “It looks like solar will not be profitable” for the district, and that in his opinion, “it’s a dead issue.” He was referring to a proposal to spend a portion of money received from NYSERDA on solar panels on top of the high school. The money was a rebate for energy-efficient design elements included in the renovation project undertaken last decade, and using some of it for solar panels would have resulted in additional rebates on top of whatever energy savings the array would provide.
Board nearly ready to vote on road names
That renovation project was part of a larger capital plan for the central campus, and there still remains one nagging item of business from that time: naming the campus roads. A number of names were proposed during and shortly after the bond was approved by the voters, but none of them received enough support to be approved. Official road names could be incorporated into GPS data, allowing emergency personnel and school visitors alike to find their way around more easily.
The current proposal is to name the roads First, Second, and Third streets. Board president Breanna Costello declined to call a vote, citing the lack of a formal resolution to approve.