Finance Bd. OKs More Police, Vehicles, And Private School Grants For Security

Following several motions and proposed amendments at a Board of Finance meeting Monday, March 11, officials unanimously recommended setting aside $420,000 in a contingency account to hire and train additional police officers and providing them with vehicles to guard public elementary schools.

The board also unanimously recommended funding a grant program for three local private schools to help pay for additional security measures.

After an original motion to add $400,000 to a contingency fund, the finance board endorsed an amendment adding enough to bring a school resource officer (SRO) position at Reed Intermediate School up to full-time capacity, as well as money to possibly certify the new contingent of school security officers as SROs.

The town has been encouraged to apply for federal grants to underwrite the costs of this program for at least two years, and First Selectman Pat Llodra appeared confident some or all of the $420,000 would be offset by these grants.

“If we get the grants we can reduce the amount in contingency,” Mrs Llodra said. At a previous meeting, she told finance officials that this grant program is exclusively to add officers, not to supplement the existing force.

Finance Board Chairman John Kortze cautioned that there is no guarantee the grant will happen, or that it will amount to the full recommended allocation. Mrs Llodra also mentioned that neighboring Monroe is applying separately to the same grantor to cover the cost of school-based officers stationed at the temporary Sandy Hook/Chalk Hill facility.

After the initial motion passed, the board took up assisting local private schools. A vocal contingent of parents and residents, almost exclusively representing the Fraser Woods Montessori School, lobbied strongly for the town to consider additional funding for all three local private schools.

The Housatonic Valley Waldorf School and St Rose School were also included among the qualifying schools.

An original motion to approve enough in an annual grant allocation for each school to match the town’s cost for a single security officer met with some concern. Finance board member Harrison Waterbury wondered if any or all of the schools opted to use the funds to supplement their own security with trained police officers, would those officers be employees of the town or the school when on duty.

Board Vice Chairman Joe Kearney said he wanted to see local private school have the option to access enough grant funding so each could have some parity with public schools on security protection.

Mr Kearney said if the town puts armed police in each public school, it is likely that private schools would also “feel compelled to match” that initiative. He added that the motion was general enough to permit private schools to use grant funding, if approved, to enhance security in other ways.

First Selectman Pat Llodra said it was important for the finance board’s motion to clarify the amount of the grant, and specifically what it would cover. The meeting subsequently broke so officials could discuss those perameters.

Upon reconvening, a vote on the original motion failed unanimously. Mr Kortze passed his chairman’s gavel to make an alternate motion for a $150,000 grant pool, which would permit a $50,000 annual grant allocation for the three private schools. Finance board member Richard Oparowski introduced a proposed amendment that would require each private school to apply for security funding from other sources, before tapping the town’s contingency account for security costs.

“I think it’s a low hurdle [for private schools] to seek private funding,” he said.

Mrs Llodra said the original motion would provide guaranteed consideration for public funds if any other avenues for private funding failed to deliver enough for those schools to achieve parity in security measures.

The vote on the amendment failed, with Mr Kortze, Mr Waterbury and James Gaston, Jr, voting No, Mr Oparowski voting Yes, and Mr Kearney and colleague Carol Walsh abstaining. A vote on the main motion saw Mr Oparowski opposing, Mr Kortze, Mr Waterbury and Mr Gaston voting Yes, and Mr Kearney and Ms Walsh abstaining.

Neither member provided reasons for their abstentions on the record. The motion was determined to have failed because a majority of members on hand did not approve the measure.

Mr Gaston then offered an alternative motion to fund a $60,000 annual grant for each school. That vote passed 5-1.

Once the security issues were settled, the board moved on to hear a presentation by school district Assistant Superintendent Linda Gajda about requirements for teacher assessment and the upcoming accreditation process by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

The finance board then briefly quizzed district officials on enrollment projections, and plans to catch up on previously deferred maintenance and building projects. The meeting broke at approximately 10:30 pm with plans to complete both the school and town budget deliberations, and to vote on both Wednesday, March 13.

A presentation from town officials on the grand list and the implications of the most recent revaluation is also scheduled for that meeting.

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