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Newtown Finance Officials Vote Yes on Armed School Security

Newtown's Board of Finance votes to add $420,000 to the town's 2013-14 budget for school security and to open a path to grant money for private school security.

 

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.

WaxyGordon March 22, 2013 at 01:06 PM
D..D..D...your quotes.."If our public schools have become such havens for the mentally disturbed, and lets face it, we all know they are, then should'nt we make classroom safety our primary concern? Isn't safety the primary concern of any legitimately managed mental health care facility?"...You seem to be saying that a school and a mental health facility are the same...they are not...for schools we need to go after the root cause, the student in need of mental health care, out of the school and under the care of TRAINED mental health providers....Our loving politicians have made it so hard for a school to do anything because they are so afraid of the bad publicity or a law suit...No child left behind is destroying our school system...they (schools) cannot call a spade a spade ,when it comes to a student of a teacher will get fired for being logical and caring
Donald McGarry March 22, 2013 at 04:26 PM
Hi Waxy..Your right, Public schools and mental health care facilities do have some differences - in a health care facility individuals that pose a threat are diagnosed, treated, isolated, and their movements closely monitored. They are also prevented from bringing weapons, drugs, and alcohol into the facility. I would love to able to say the same about our public schools.
Donald McGarry March 23, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Hi Susan - Your repsponse conveyed clearly some of the complexities of mental ilness. As you indicate, teatment is often long, expensive, complicated. Often with no guarentees of success. I agree with you, and I agree that the issue needs to be addressed urgently. However, like many pleading for health care reform, and obstructing advances in secuirty, you present no new proposals. Is'nt it time for change ?? (heard that before somewhere). Is'nt it time we tried a new approach? Because it appears we have tried and tried to achieve a new result with the same approach over and over again...which puts us in the insanity category Believe me, I hate to admit it as much as you, but maybe it is time to let the security experts take the reigns. When all else fails, its time to cut our loses, and pick up a weapon and protect ourselves. So at this point, I turn to them. Your assessment of the mental health care field has confirmed my already lacking faith in it as a miserable failure, pertaining to our school kids. I'm investing my time, money, and resources into security, The Newtown community has voted with sense. I hope they continue to move forward, instead of backward.
Donald McGarry March 23, 2013 at 11:06 PM
Susan - You are absolutely justified to be fearful of a firearm in any situation. The golden rule that all responsible firearm users practice is "every gun is loaded all the time" Please remember before you discount guns, that geat many things have been achieved, only with the help of a firearm. Why dont you visit one the the most prestigious gun clubs in the nation, located right down the street from Sandy Hook School? You will be warmly welcomed, and also very suprised at the clientel. I am certain you may see either your neighbor, dentist, lawyer, or physician there. I am not a firearms expert, but you will meet many there. They can help you better understand how thoroughly gun safety is practiced, and how firearms can be used safely as a very affective tool. They can better address some of the good questions you pose. These are questions that are running through the minds of many of us right now.
Donald McGarry March 25, 2013 at 01:47 PM
not such a crazy notion if we open our minds ..We are Israel now... We are a country at war,that is fighting terror in its streets. It is a good time for change. Training for average citizens...maybe required firearms training and defense techniques...Mandatory, just like a drivers license. A new prepared citizenry..just like the colonial days...every able -bodied citizen prepared and required to react at any given moment..it's not sci-fi...its adapting to the new world. A new idea to react to a new world...yes, it does need some tweaking. Read about it..when terror groups began attacking school children,the people reacted by training themslves to fight back. When armed kindergarten teachers fired back at terrrorists (and this occured frequently) the attacks immediately subsided and eventually ceased. Is this the answer??? Maybe not, but to believe that we dont live in that same world is dangerously ignorant.

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