Although the Ridgefield Board of Education has already and mental health staffing in the 2013-2014 school budget, in reaction to the school shooting tragedy in Newtown, a question remains as to whether security staffing should be funded under the school or town budget.
During Monday's board meeting at the Town Hall Annex, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deborah Low said funding for additional security, including unarmed guards at each of the nine schools, is in the operating budget for now, "but where it ultimately ends up, will be a discussion that" the board will need to have with the Board of Selectmen. She said either way town officials have agreed that security for school and town facilities will be viewed as a separate line item that is essentially "immune" to cuts.
Board of Education Vice Chairman Irene Burgess said in her view "it doesn't really matter" whether school security is funded in the town or school budget, because in the end "it's all the same money." Board of Finance Chairman Dave Ulmer, who was in the audience, agreed that it didn't matter much which budget the security funding came from.
Several board members, however, pointed out that school security staff are not school district employees — therefore there could be liability reasons why they would need to be paid from the town's budget. In addition the school resource officers are trained by the town police.
Board member Christopher Murray pointed out that the police department sets the pay for school resource officers. He questioned whether the board could lose jurisdiction over how security is handled at school facilities in the event the staff are paid out of the town budget.
Board Chairman Austin Drukker said school resource officers are often "utilized in other ways" by town police departments when they're not on duty — such as after school or during summer break.
The district has already hired eight new security guards, with one serving as a "floater" among the nine schools, in addition to two existing security guards. In January Low said school administrators were consulting with the Ridgefield Police Department about adding two more school resource officers as well.
Presently there is one school resource officer assigned to the Ridgefield schools.
A School Security Committee appointed by the board last month and charged with "researching the best security practices regarding school physical plant, communication, staffing, procedures, and training," is reportedly investigating the use of new access control and visitor management systems at all the schools, including a card swipe system for staff, as well as additional surveillance cameras and electronic background checks for visitors.
Meanwhile the school district has implemented an array of new security measures since December, including having the aforementioned security guards check in all visitors, as well as requiring all visitors to present photo identification and write down their exit times. Work stations — each with with a computer, phone and door buzzer — are reportedly being set up for the guards.
The school administration's preliminary 2013-2014 school budget request totals $83.9 million, about a 3.24% increase over the current school budget. At the start of the budget process, Low emphasized that without the $515,000 for security included in the budget, the increase would have been held to 2.61%.