Before the Board of Finance approves the 2013-14 town and education budgets early next week, they must weigh an array of options on school security -- a series of choices simplified by First Selectman Pat Llodra's proposals earlier this week. The choices range from creating a new police position called a "School Security Officer" to using a private, armed security team who do not answer to Newtown police.
The five options incapsulated, and their costs, from a brief distributed by the First Selectman's Office:
1) Create and implement a School Security Officer position. ($335,000)
School Security Officers would only work during the school year, and be paid accordingly. And unlike a School Resource Officer, whose duties include a large degree of education, these officers would focus on safety.
2) Hire three new officers, and restructure to provide a fourth. ($309,812)
This would provide police coverage, but not necessarily instructional involvement, to each school. These officers would also serve the force when school is not in session.
3) Hire four new officers, and assign them to each elementary school. ($401,216)
Similar to plan #2, but this plan would not require restructuring.
4) Hire four new officers and provide SRO (School Resource Officer) training. ($406,216)
For an additional $5,000, the officers could receive training that would allow them to incorporate into school curriculum, helping to teach students.
5) Hire a private security force.
(No dollar amount given; this would likely be a part of the Board of Education budget.)
At a Wednesday Board of Finance meeting, town officials and parents alike offered a wide array of suggestions. Some -- including Sandy Hook Elementary School library clerk and Legislative Council member Mary Ann Jacob -- questioned the need for the unarmed security guards currently being hired by the Board of Education. (School officials said they plan to use a total of 21 unarmed security guards to staff schools.)
"I don't believe 21 unarmed security guard make our schools safer," said Jacob. "If there was an unarmed security guard at Sandy Hook on 12/14, we'd have 27 dead people."
First Selectman Pat Llodra differentiated between the short-term response needed immediately and a long-term response down the road. Llodra has suggested using a contingency fund to cover school security -- saying she favored the third option for the short term. This would open the possibility of using grant money and allow town officials "a little more time to talk through it."
But she said a long-term solution may be different.
"I really like [the first option]," she said. "It's a little out-of-the-box thinking that would create a position of an armed person who really develops that school speciality experience. The disadvantage is that position doesn't exist, and has to be negotiated into police contract."
Parents who have regularly spoken in favor of armed guards and a comprehensive budget returned to the meeting. At least one mentioned her opposition to private security guards.
"I really believe we need police officers, not just what someone would call a rent-a-cop," said parent Michelle Hankin, who has previously spoken at many meetings. "Do not compromise when it comes to quality."
Llodra said the Board of Selectmen saw a "qualitative difference" between private security and additional police. Chief Michael Kehoe agreed.
"We'll be able to give them training they need ... in a school setting, or other training they'll need to be police officer -- they go hand-in-hand," he said. A police officer engaging with public every day is gaining experience every day. He's able to resolve issues, de-escalate matters and at times even save lives. That's why we're so highly trained."
When asked about the most important element to have in place to ensure security, Kehoe said he couldn't single out just one.
"In today's society it has to be a combination of them all. I can't pick one and say that's going to do it," he said. "It's hard for me to say personnel is the answer -- personnel is one of the answers. If you can't do it in one year, you can plan for the future. If you don't have enough resources today, I'd say start planning for the future."
The board will meet Monday, March 11 to continue discussion on the budget. Officials said another meeting could be possible for March 13, but the entire town budget is due to the Legislative Council March 14, leaving a tight schedule for decision-making.
The final part of this series on the future of school security and the 2013-14 budget will appear this weekend. Keep checking Patch for continuing coverage of this ongoing discussion. Read Patch's previous coverage on this issue: