First Selectman Pat Llodra told the Board of Finance during a budget meeting February 27 that she is planning to budget a contingent of nine armed, retired police officers who will serve as armed school security officers (SSOs) in local schools beginning this September.
Mrs Llodra told finance officials that she expects virtually all expenses for armed and unarmed school guards, as well as a number of other measures from surveillance equipment to building hardening initiatives, to be offset by grants in the coming year.
But she does see the employing of the hourly SSO force as an ongoing expense beyond the 2014-15 school year, and told the finance board it should plan to see those expenses partially or fully transferring to local taxpayer underwriting by 2016.
The first selectman said that the long-term plan was to devise a model for the entire community for safe schools, and that it will be a shared commitment and structure between the town and district.
Under the suggested plan, the school district will continue to employ a security director, and eight unarmed guards who will be distributed throughout the local network of facilities. The town will continue utilizing two additional local police officers who are trained as school resource officers (SROs) and one additional youth officer.
It is expected that eight retired police officers who can still qualify under new state guidelines for the SSO program will be among those applying to transition into the armed SSO armed positions, bringing with them their existing familiarity with district policies, its schools, personnel, and students.
Mrs Llodra explained that under the newly implemented SSO program that is rolling out statewide this year, the applicants would apply and, upon acceptance, be trained during a special one-week program administered by Connecticut State Police.
“Only retired police officers are eligible for the work,” Mrs Llodra said.
Finance Director Robert Tait reassured finance board members that this year, they “won’t see a major effect on the budget.”
“Grants cover the entire package,” Mrs Llodra added.
Candidates for the SSO positions will face an interview process that will include face-to-face meetings with the school superintendent and Police Chief Michael Kehoe, Mrs Llodra said.
Interim Superintendent John Reed called the proposed SSO/guard initiative a “wonderful example of school-town collaboration.”
Referring to the extensive costs the town has borne to staff all local schools with armed police officers working overtime, Dr Reed noted that, “This model was developed to save taxpayers money.” He said the SSOs will be paid $21 hourly, and will not be offered or eligible for other benefits.
“It’s a very attractive job for retired police officers who are on a pension and who still [maintain their own] health insurance,” Dr Reed said. “Now they can pick up a job with summers off.”
The town will likely use an SSO model already in place in Enfield to inform Newtown’s interview and testing procedures for its candidates. And Dr Reed expects the incoming SSOs to work well with the current Newtown school security director, who was a veteran Los Angeles police officer before coming to work locally.
Dr Reed said the nature of a “brotherhood of police” will bode well for the district.
“I’m optimistic about how well it can go,” Dr Reed said, adding that the ad-hoc school security committee has also endorsed the SSO proposal.
Mrs Llodra said Chief Kehoe is fully on board with the proposal. While SSOs will have some coordination with the local police department, they will administratively answer to the first selectman and be managed under town human resources practices.
Board of Education member David Freedman, who attended the meeting, said he would look forward to seeing budget projections that would factor the taxpayer cost of school security as offsetting grants lapse in the coming years.
Monroe Security Costs
School board member Kathryn Hamilton asked what the plan was regarding Monroe police officers staffing as security at the temporary Chalk Hill/Sandy Hook facility. Mrs Llodra replied that she is planning a meeting with Monroe officials to firm up future plans and compensation soon.
“They are important partners and we want them to be part of the decision,” Mrs Llodra said of Monroe officials, adding that as of January, officials were still planning to cover the cost of at least one police officer. That officer, she explained, also serves two other schools within the complex where Chalk Hill School is located.
According to documentation provided by Mr Tait, security guards and SSOs will be scheduled to staff 183 days in the coming year, at seven hours a day. Security guards will receive a $17 per hour pay rate.
The total cost for unarmed guards in the next budget request, including Social Security, is estimated at $187,544. About $11,000 more is budgeted for summer security coverage and about $6,000 is added for weekend duty.
The armed SSOs are budgeted at $261,871 including hourly pay and Social Security, $16,000 is budgeted for equipment, and $1,500 for training costs.
Mrs Llodra told finance officials to plan on seeing an amendment to the current townside budget proposal adding $279,380 to the cost side, and an offsetting corresponding amount as general fund grant revenue.
Mr Tait said he hopes to see future costs for SSOs beyond the coming budget cycle being offset by revenues generated through grand list growth.