Finance Bd. Reviews School Budget, Security Dialogue Begins

Along with a presentation on the Board of Education’s proposed 2013-14 budget, the Board of Finance also heard from the Police Commission and a representative of a Security Committee for the first time on measures that could be taken regarding school security at its special meeting on Tuesday, February 26.

“This budget year, despite the huge challenge that we all face not just from a budgetary one but overall, we find ourselves in a unique situation,” said Finance Board Chair John Kortze. “The Board of Selectman’s budget is normally complete at this stage, and accounts in the Board of Education’s budget are usually complete.”

None of the anticipated 2013-14 security recommendations, Mr Kortze said, have been presented to his board, so those costs have not been included in the proposed spending package.

“I want to stress to everybody that it is our goal to address the security issue in the schools,” Mr Kortze said. “The reason that is not in the budget yet is because we haven’t seen it. The reason it is not in the budget yet is because it hasn’t been presented to us, and it has come after the fact.”

He also noted that due to the town’s charter it is incumbent on the finance board to address security costs, because his board has the power to add money to the budget. The Legislative Council, which will take up the budget proposals next month, cannot add to the budget.

The School Board’s Proposed Budget

Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein gave an outline of her board’s proposed 2013-14 budget for the finance board during the meeting.

After reviewing the superintendent’s proposed budget for the next academic year, the school made some changes before unanimously voting to pass a $72,845,304 spending package, representing a 6.26 percent budget increase over the current fiscal year, at its meeting on Tuesday, February 5.

As Ms Leidlein explained for the Board of Finance this week, the school board’s budget proposal includes the addition of 12 security guards for the district, implementing full-day kindergarten, additional staff, building and site maintenance costs, technology costs, and contractual requirements, which include salary increases, benefit increases, out of town tuition expenses, and transportation needs.

The school board’s budget evolved from the superintendent’s proposal of a 6.54 percent increase, representing a $73,042,343 budget.

“If we look at the percentage of the budget increases over the last several years,” Ms Leidlein said, “you’ll see that it’s been low… I know it is a dramatic increase, but we are facing a very unique situation here with regard to both the economic challenges of the last several years also with what we are facing as a result of mandates that are coming down from our state and federal level that we need to address.”

Ms Leidlein said her board’s proposed budget meets the adopted Board of Education budget goals, district strategic plan goals, and state and federal mandates.

The Board of Finance is scheduled to hear the Board of Selectmen’s proposed budget during its Thursday, February 28, meeting.

Security Costs Unknown

Also Tuesday evening, Mr Kortze said e-mails from concerned residents are at its normal level of volume for this point in the budget process. Unlike other years, he added, this year most of the concerns regard security in the school district, with opinions covering both adding or not adding to measures in place now.

Representing a Security Committee, established to address immediate and long-term goals associated with building safety, finance board member Richard Gaines said the committee has identified two security recommendations: implementing security resource officer positions for each of Newtown’s schools, and adding a security guard position at schools.

Other recommendations may be presented by the Security Committee in the future. Mr Gaines estimated those could be presented to the Board of Finance prior to its March 11 deadline, when it is set to decide on both the Board of Selectmen’s budget and the school board’s budget.

The Board of Education’s proposed budget already has a request for 12 positions for security guards, but the school resource officers would be an addition to the selectmen’s budget.

Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico said his commission has been looking into security options in the district, as well as for the three nonpublic schools in town. The situation, he said, requires extensive thought. Mr Mangiafico also noted it would take nine to 12 months to hire and train school resource officers, and each position would cost roughly $90,000.

Other things to consider, Mr Mangiafico said, include looking at whether the Newtown police force is adequately staffed, with and without factoring in the events of 12/14; vehicles that would be needed for school resource officers; and other costs that may come with future security decisions.

When asked how much an armed security guard, instead of the school resource officer option, would cost, police Captain Joe Rios estimated roughly $20,000 on an hourly contracted basis. The security guards in the school board’s proposed budget would be unarmed security guards.

While no decisions on security were made at the meeting, as Mr Kortze said at the start of the meeting, the dialogue began. Members of the Legislative Council also spoke during deliberations, requesting additional information. Council member Robert Merola asked whether a “sunset date” could be considered for if and when the town feels safe again, the added security positions could be removed. Others brought up the question of whether there is a heightened need for security or an emotional need for those measures to be put in place.

“We better know what we are doing here,” said Mr Mangiafico, “because we may engage ourselves in something we won’t be able to afford to do any more.”

First Selectman Pat Llodra expressed concern over how far-reaching the town will be expected to implement security measures, and where the line to stop providing those measures will be drawn.

If school resource officers are put in place at Newtown’s elementary schools, Mrs Llodra said, no model exists for those positions, which would include providing education for students. That model would have to be created.

“Let’s do it well,” said Mrs Llodra. “Let’s do it right.”

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