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School Board Budget Review Focuses On Security

While continuing its review of the superintendent’s proposed operating budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, the Board of Education took up the topic of security during its workshop meeting on Thursday, January 30.

Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed presented his proposed budget on January 23, and the Board of Education began hearing from advocates for different parts of the budget that night. The budget is available to view in full here.

The superintendent’s proposed operating budget for 2014-15 totals $71,580,034, which reflects a $534,730, or a 0.75 percent, increase over the 2013-14 fiscal year.

By January 28, the school board had heard from school principals, Director of Pupil Services Julie Haggard, and Newtown Continuing Education Director Elissa Gellis. On January 30, the board heard about its curriculum and technology budgets, general services and security, the plant operations and maintenance budget, the transportation budget, and employee benefits.

Potential security costs in the budget took up the largest portion of the discussion in the January 30 session. Dr Reed explained the school district has been asked by First Selectman Pat Llodra to find an alternative to a continued police presence at the schools and to add costs associated with that alternative to the school district’s budget, rather than in the selectmen’s budget.

“She feels the cost of continued police presence in every one of our schools is a difficult thing to sustain,” Dr Reed said.

The town, according to Dr Reed, pays time-and-a-half for the police officers at the schools now. Instead of that presence, Dr Reed outlined a plan — which he said should be considered as a recommendation from a Security Committee that has been looking at security in the district — to hire retired personnel or formerly trained police officers. Dr Reed also said the security plan assumes the school resource officers already in place will remain in the district.

Putting the cost for security positions in the school’s budget, Dr Reed said, could highlight those costs and help educate the public about them. Standards are still being developed, Dr Reed said.

Director of Business Ron Bienkowski explained multiple ways the security plan could be funded, if grants go through, but, as Dr Reed said, an exact security cost for the 2014-15 fiscal year is hard to pin down. Costs for security personnel already placed in the district are already in the budget, but the new proposed plan is not.

“We’re just cautioning here that because there are multiple funding sources and there are assumptions being made, it’s very hard at this moment in time to articulate with certainty what the absolute cost will be and how that cost will be addressed as far as where it will appear and how we will ultimately explain [it] to the public,” Dr Reed said.

Without grants, as school board member David Freedman pointed out, the security plan costs along with the district’s current security personnel costs would be $540,062.

Following the meeting, Mr Bienkowski explained the district has $324,525 already budgeted for 2014-15 to cover the current security personnel costs. Adding the security plan would leave the district $216,037 to cover, but Mr Bienkowski said he expects grants to cover most of that, leaving the district responsible for $7,013.

Multiple school board members voiced concern about not previously discussing possible security changes before being asked to vote for the measures in the budget, and board member Keith Alexander said adding a section to the budget would make it difficult to ever remove it. Mr Alexander also questioned whether a security policy should be looked at.

Board of Education Vice Chair Laura Roche noted that the costs for security need to be in either the selectmen’s budget or the school district’s budget. With it placed in the school budget, Ms Roche said it represents a cost that cannot be decreased if the budget fails at referendum and is cut in response, and that could effect other areas of the budget.

Dr Reed said the school board should consider the security plan as a “well-thought-out recommendation” from the Security Committee.

“We think this is a viable alternative,” Dr Reed said.

Other security- related expenses elsewhere in the budget include surveillance and other building-related costs.

 

Figures In Flux

To show how the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 has affected the security budget, Mr Bienkowski demonstrated how the security personnel budget would “just be plotting along at the same rate that it had for the prior several years.” In the 2012-13 fiscal year, Mr Bienkowski said eight additional security staff cost the district roughly $61,000.

“Going to the current year, we budgeted for 11 additional staff,” said Mr Bienkowski, “and that was at $227,000. Next year in our budget proposal we have a budget for eight guards… for $165,000.”

Mr Bienkowski said the security plan would add nine armed guards in the school district and eight unarmed guards. Armed guards, he said, receive higher salaries to compensate for training.

Mr Bienkowski said he believes that the US Department of Education School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant will cover some security guard positions. A Department of Justice grant, Mr Bienkowski said, is also expected to help cover security costs in the next fiscal year.

“So to have the armed program would cost $540,562; this is just the current budget and the armed guards,” Mr Bienkowski said. “So it means we need $216,037 more than what is in our budget.”

If the grants do go through, the district would be left to cover $7,013 for the implementation of the security plan, instead of the $216,037.

Dr Reed said the $216,037 represents a defined budget amount for security personnel costs that local leaders will have to work together to communicate to residents. He also said that money does not wholly represent an increase to the school board’s budget, as the costs are being transferred from the selectmen’s budget.

The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt its own budget proposal on February 6.

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