For the second workshop meeting in a row, the Board of Education discussed security measures in the school district on Tuesday, February 4.
Tuesday’s meeting marked the next-to-last budget workshop meeting for the school board. It is scheduled to adopt its 2014-15 budget on Thursday, February 6.
Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed presented his budget on January 23. The superintendent’s proposed operating budget for 2014-15 totals $71,580,034, which reflects a $534,730, or a 0.75 percent, increase over the 2013-14 fiscal year.
During its meeting on Thursday, January 30, the Board of Education heard a report about potential security costs. Dr Reed explained the school district has been asked by First Selectman Pat Llodra to find an alternative to a continued police presence at the schools and to add costs associated with that alternative to the school district’s budget, rather than in the selectmen’s budget. Director of Business Ron Bienkowski explained multiple ways the security plan could be funded, if grants go through, but, as Dr Reed said, an exact security cost for the 2014-15 fiscal year is hard to pin down. Costs for security personnel already placed in the district are in the budget, but the new proposed plan is not.
First Selectman Pat Llodra attended Tuesday’s budget workshop to further explain the security plan that would place school safety officers (SSO), retired police officers trained and armed, in schools.
About a year ago, Mrs Llodra said, she began talks with the Board of Finance about the community’s obligation to provide safety features and personnel at Newtown’s elementary schools.
“We really spent quite a bit of time...trying to describe the best model we could use,” Mrs Llodra said. “At that time there was no such thing as an SSO.”
After many meetings, Mrs Llodra continued, a short term solution for the 2013-14 school year was decided on; placing police officers in the schools using over time, which Mrs Llodra said had “an extraordinary cost” associated with it. Creating full-time police positions, Mrs Llodra said, was a challenge, due to having to find duties for the officers when not on duty at the schools. She said no answer to that challenge was found, leading to the decision to place officers in the schools using overtime.
Using overtime to cover officers at the elementary schools, the first selectman said, was a short-term strategy, due to the cost. To have officers at the elementary schools on overtime, according to Mrs Llodra, cost roughly $360,000.
Mrs Llodra said the town also began working with the state to create a model for an SSO, a part-time position model for security personnel in a school system.
As Mrs Llodra announced last July, the roles, responsibilities, and scope of authority of an SSO were developed in two communities, North Branford and Enfield, and the certification process was developed with the State Police.
After visiting both North Branford and Enfield, Mrs Llodra said she believes the SSO model is “a wonderful opportunity for our town.” SSOs, she explained, are recently retired police officers who have the full capabilities of a police officer, except for the power to arrest someone. The SSOs are trained to work in schools, but their priority would be safety, Mrs Llodra said.
The first selectman also recommended continuing to have Newtown’s security resource officers (SRO) and its youth officer in place at Newtown High School, Reed Intermediate School, and Newtown Middle School. A future conversation also needs to focus on school safety, Mrs Llodra said.
Multiple school board members voiced concern that grants available to cover aspects of the security measures will eventually cease. Dr Reed said he believes the measures will be covered through the next year.
The SSO program, Dr Reed also said, is a collaboration with the town and school district that will require both to be “joined a the hip.”
The Board of Education also discussed different aspects of the 2014-15 proposed school budget during the meeting, and heard a few updates from Director of Business Ron Bienkowski. Overall, Mr Bienskowski said the updates do not affect the bottom line of the proposed budget. He also said all updates are added to the proposed budget, available off of the school district’s website, as they are made.
During its public hearing portion of the workshop, the school board heard from two members of the public, both representatives of local PTAs.
Reed Intermediate School Co-President Lisa Wallace said she was speaking for and representing all of the district’s PTA presidents.
“As we begin the budget process, we want all of you to know that we support Dr Reed’s proposed education budget,’ Ms Wallace said. “We believe it to be fiscally responsible, reflects many changes that have been impacting our school district, and, while it will not likely move our schools forward in any major way, we trust that it does keep us whole.”
Ms Wallace said the PTAs request that the school board move the superintendent’s proposed budget to the Board of Education as it is.
Jen Scarangella said she was at the meeting to request the school board not make changes to the middle school’s budget, as, she said, any changes would make further cuts at Newtown Middle School, where she pointed out four teaching positions are already proposed reductions.
The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt its budget during a budget workshop onThursday, February 6, starting at 7:30 pm at the Newtown Municipal Center.