This article is the second in a Patch series on the future of security in Newtown schools. Read the previous article in this series, and look out for follow-ups examining other variables involved in the decision.
With the 2013-14 town budget before the Board of Finance, now is the time if officials want to put armed security guards in Newtown schools. According to charter, the budget must head to the Legislative Council -- which has no power to place additional items -- by March 14. Before then, the Finance board will also have the opportunity to address another police request -- Chief Michael Kehoe's salary, which is lower than median for the area.
First Selectman Pat Llodra told Patch some options are still on the table after a Thursday night Board of Finance meeting.
"I'm certain we'll be doing something for the schools," said Llodra. "Right now I'm thinking SROs [School Resource Officers, armed police integrated into school routine], but we'll have to see how that discussion plays out. If we do decide to add SROs to the elementary schools, then we'll increase our police force, absolutely."
Assuming SROs make it into the budget, how many are appropriate?
Llodra says it's the Board of Selectmen's position that Newtown's police force remain a "similar size" as they are now. The Board of Police Commissioners have asked for 11 new officers, assuming Newtown decides to use SROs in each school, a move they say will bring them up to date with FBI recommendations. The price tag for the expansion would be about $1.2 million.
"If, in fact, the decision is that we're going to have armed officer in every school, and we still continue to see disability absences, we're going to need 11 officers," said Mangiafico. While numbers have fluctuated, several officers are out on long-term leave as they deal with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the events of Dec. 14.
"We don't know what's going to happen with these guys and gals," he said.
Llodra told Mangiafico she hadn't seen "any evidence" the department needed to add 11 regular officers to their ranks. According to her, the department would need to hire, at minimum, four new officers to put one in each school. She asked town officials assembled at the Municipal Center Tuesday to brainstorm.
"What do we do? Can anybody do some out-of-the-box thinking and create a 10-month position so they can focus them on [schools] and not roll them into a force we don't need during the off-times?"
Mangiafico said he'd heard from parents who want two or even more armed officers in schools.
"Somewhere along the line we have to be cautious about what we're saying," he said. "We have to provide a comfortable safety for the kid, but we can't go overboard on it."
Some parents have been adamant in asking for two armed officers -- including the Head O' Meadow PTA, who voted unanimously in support of just that in January. Shortly after that vote, Head O' Meadow parent Donna Lorenz told the Board of Education she wouldn't feel comfortable with anything less.
"Policemen travel with a partner, and there's a reason for that," she said. "The only thing that stopped that guy that day was when the two Newtown police burst in the building ... You all know that."
The town currently has three SROs. The security committee has recommended an SRO for each school, including a new SRO for Reed Intermediate School, where the current SRO also serves as the town's Youth Officer. Security Committee member Richard Gaines said the additional role requires him to split his time significantly.
One area of the police budget Llodra says the town may be willing to examine is Kehoe's salary. The Board of Selectman has planned for a two-year staggered raise that would put Kehoe's salary at $113,815 by July 2014 -- a number, Llodra says, on par with other police chiefs in the area.
Kehoe makes about $102,000 annually, according to the 2012-13 budget numbers. This year's budget has asked for a 5.6% increase, or $108,399. Police originally asked for more.
"We put in what we thought was a rational, reasonably justified salary for the Chief," said commission chair Paul Mangiafico at Tuesday's meeting. The commission had asked for about $112,000. "[The Board of Selectmen] made an offer that under normal times would have been very acceptable. These are not normal times."
At Thursday's Board of Finance meeting, Llodra said she would be willing to go back to the Board of Selectmen to re-open the discussion.
"I don't know what the board will be willing to do, but the Chief is clearly undercompensated," said Llodra. "We'd like to do better for him ... I'm always willing to go back to the board and say, given the events of Dec. 14, should we be do things a little differently? Should we be doing something better, recognizing the extraordinary service and value the Chief adds to our town?"
The Board of Selectmen will meet Monday, March 4. A Board of Finance vote on the budget is schedule for Monday, March 11.