School security costs still up for debate in Newtown

Final decision on funding school safety officer plan has yet to be reached


Feb. 12--NEWTOWN -- School and town leaders appear to be on the same page when it comes to ensuring adequate security at the district's seven schools, including Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But the final decision about management of a new school safety-officer plan-- with nine guards to be trained and equipped with weapons and eight to be unarmed -- has not yet been made. Nor has a final decision been reached on funding for the program, which is expected to cost little more than $540,000.

At a special meeting of the Board of Education on Tuesday night, Chairman Debbie Leidlein said she has spoken with the leaders of the town's major boards, including First Selectman Pat Llodra, and found a firm commitment to school safety. But the board did not take official action because further conversations are expected as town and school budgets are reviewed by the Board of Finance and Legislative Council during the next two months. A budget referendum will be held in April.

In the proposed $71 million school budget for 2014-15, $324,000 is earmarked for 18 school security officers, 17 patrol guards and one security administrator -- the same number of personnel as this year. The budget reflects a zero increase over this year.

The district's security figure does not factor in another eight police personnel provided by the town, including three school resource officers at the high, middle and intermediate schools, or the Monroe police officer stationed at the entrance to the relocated-to-Monroe Sandy Hook Elementary.

It also does not take into account two armed police officers inside Sandy Hook Elementary, a number district officials said they would want to retain there. Like Newtown, Monroe has received grants to help offset those expenses. But decisions about security will have to be made for next year between Monroe and Newtown leaders.

Llodra and the town security committee recommend following the school safety-officer model used in the North Branford district, because it would be far less expensive than paying town police officers to patrol the schools on overtime pay. In the North Branford model, the school safety officers are employees of the school district rather than the Police Department.

Newtown school officials have applied for a $209,000 federal grant to cover part of the additional personnel expense, which would leave $7,000 for the town to finance. Llodra has said she expects the town will pick up about $43,000 for training and equipping armed officers at the schools.

Security has been a top educational priority since the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 students and educators were killed on Dec. 14, 2012.

Interim Schools Superintendent John Reed said town Finance Director Robert Tait told him the town has been awarded some $511,000 in grants the school district could use for educational expenses, including security.

Board member Kathy Hamilton said she does not think it matters where this money is budgeted. But she said if the school district implements the new school safety-officer model, and those guards answer to school administrators, cost for that program should be reflected in the education budget.

"What happens, God forbid, if one of the budgets fails and we have to remove money from them? asked member John Vouros. "Where does the money come from? No one is going to take one penny away from security, and there's no where else to take money from? That's the million-dollar question here?

Board members said he will have to rely on the "good faith collaboration of all of other town boards.

"I'll remember those words, he said.

nhutson@newstimes.com;860-354-2274;http://twitter.com/NTNanci

Copyright 2014 - The News-Times, Danbury, Conn.