Officials at a Monday Board of Finance meeting voted to add $420,000 to the town's contingency fund -- an amount chosen to allow Newtown to staff armed police at all seven public schools, including elementary schools, if it chooses.
It's not final -- on Thursday, per charter, the budget will move to the Legislative Council, who have the power to cut the budget. But since that body can't add money, the Board of Finance decided to act now.
"Our primary goal is to get a number, and that number has to be more than enough for when the council gets the budget," said Finance Chair John Kortze. "It would allow for some version of an armed police officer in each of the schools -- and make sure we don't have the issue of time."
First Selectman Pat Llodra's initial proposal called for $400,000. The board decided to add extra to allow "the conversation to continue" once the budget reaches the Legislative Council.
"We can take it back, but if we don't add it now and more information comes out, that can't happen," said Kortze.
The addition would cover the hiring of 4.3 new officers -- the .3 serving to provide a full blanket of security at Reed Intermediate School, whose current School Resource Officer also serves as the town's Youth Officer. In addition, Llodra said when the Board of Selectmen made their request, they didn't know Monroe would apply for a grant to provide an officer at Sandy Hook Elementary School, based at Monroe's Chalk Hill School since the Dec. 14 shooting.
"The idea is to make the pot large enough so that if a decision is made later on and we need that additional [School Resource Officer], we have the resources to do that," she said.
According to Llodra's five-option plan for security, four new officers -- sans School Resource Officer training -- for elementary schools would cost the town $401,216. Llodra said the town could choose to provide the training, which would allow officers to incorporate into the curriculum, for a slight increase -- $5,000 per officer, "a very small amount of money," in her words.
In any case, Llodra said, the move is a step toward police presence at Newtown's four elementary schools. Newtown Middle School, Newtown High School and Reed Intermediate School each have existing School Resource Officers.
Private Schools Receive One-Time Grant
After a heated vote, the board also approved allowing a one-time grant of up to $60,000 to each of Newtown's private schools -- an increase from the $20,000 Llodra had supported, but not the equal funds some private school parents and staff had requested.
"The issue, really, is that we the public sector do not have the right to tell the public schools what they should put in place,"
Llodra said before a recess, after which the board returned with a higher figure of $50,000 per school.
The measure failed on the first vote. Then member James Gaston Jr. proposed a higher figure of $60,000 per school -- which passed. In arguing for the grant, board member Joe Kearney said he supported a "larger pot" for private schools.
"Newtown falls into a special category now, unfortunately," he said. "And I think therefore we have a special burden."
Kearney said if the town agrees to fund armed security personnel, it should extend to private schools as well -- up to $91,000 per school, to allow them to spend as much as the town would spend for police presence.
"I understand the slippery slope argument -- where will it end?" he said. But he said security guards spoke to an "essential element" of school, like bussing and nursing. "If the town agrees to place armed guards at public schools, they're almost forcing private schools to match."
Parents and staff at Fraser Woods Montessori School had been a vocal presence at meetings, asking for equal coverage from the town. Last week, Head of School Miriam Woods told the board she felt security was as important at private school as at public schools.
"We are in Newtown just like you, and the same insecurity you felt is on our end," she said.
In a public comment Monday night, resident John Neuhoff told the board he saw the need as a "town problem."
"If the schools were in any other town in America, they wouldn't have to change," he said. "Because they are located in Newtown, they have to change. If it's so important for the town do something for the public schools, they should also do it for the private schools ... The public schools can get the money from taxpayers like me. The private schools have to get money from parents who send the kids, and that's very limited. Because we're here, we have -- they have -- no choice."
The Board of Finance has scheduled an additional meeting for March 13 to discuss the budget before it moves to the Legislative Council March 14.