In the wake of the Newtown tragedy on Dec. 14, the Redding school board and schools superintendent are asking for an appropriation this fiscal year to beef up security, as well as for a continued police presence in the schools.
The school board is asking for a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO). Police Chief Douglas Fuchs had requested the SRO in his proposed 2013-14 budget, plus the ability to bring his department to its full complement of 16 officers by adding a patrol officer to his budget. This officer is proposed to serve as a youth officer available to respond to the schools as well as to be a part-time investigator.
At Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, the selectmen agreed that both proposals should be passed on to the finance board for consideration, and if approved, to a town meeting. Also on the meeting’s agenda would be an appropriation to cover the overtime incurred this fiscal year by having a police presence in the schools — one at each school — as well as the voluntary assistance by local police in Newtown, which has also resulted in overtime pay.
On Dec. 14, a lone gunman shot and killed his mother and then went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where he killed 20 children and six adults and then himself.
Since the tragedy, school administrators and boards across the country are taking another look at their security measures. Recently, the Redding school board, which oversees the elementary and middle schools, decided on the measures it wants taken this fiscal year.
In a letter to First Selectman Natalie Ketcham, Dr. Bernard Josefsberg, superintendent for Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, detailed the steps the Redding board wants to take. They are based on recommendations Dr. Josefsberg made at an earlier board meeting.
They include material steps to better secure the physical environment, protocol and procedure review accompanied by staff training, and coordination with the Redding Police Department.
Dr. Josefsberg said in the letter that staff training needs will be arranged by a corporate contribution arranged by a Redding resident. Assisted by Chief Fuchs and Easton police Chief James Candee, ER9 administrators are reviewing and revising emergency procedures and protocols, he added.
The board requested a special appropriation of $135,000 to fund this initial security upgrade, which includes perimeter surveillance and access control.
In his letter, Dr. Josefsberg said since Dec. 14, the schools have been “exceptionally well served” by Redding police. He said the board reached a consensus that an ongoing police presence in the schools is the option of choice — an SRO police officer and any necessary additional personnel.
Chief Fuchs said at the budget hearing that he had had requests for police presence at private schools in Redding, like Landmark Academy, and by the town’s Park and Recreation Department at after-school events and in the future at summer camps.
An SRO would be at only one building or between the two but would not be a constant presence at both schools, Chief Fuchs said. He added that an SRO would not offer presence at Barlow or private schools.
The only way to do that, he said, is to bring the 16h officer on board. He would be trained to deal with kids on all levels, serving as a youth officer.
The Police Department has 16 authorized officers, but several years ago, when the economy soured, the chief was directed not to fill the position, which he has asked for every year since.
Speaking about the SRO, Ms. Ketcham said school board representatives she met with said the board evolved from asking for a straight security police presence to the SRO, who would have more interaction with students and staff and would have a curriculum-based value.
Asked about Region 9 (Joel Barlow High School), the chief said he has not had a request for an SRO or police presence in the school, but police have ramped up their presence outside the school.
“If we agree to go forward, we have immediate and long-term issues for school security that require a town meeting quickly,” said Ms. Ketcham.
The appropriations that would go to the meeting are the $135,000 for school security and the cost of the two police officers as well as an appropriation for overtime. If the finance board approves the appropriation, a town meeting could be scheduled for mid-February, Ms. Ketcham said.
During Friday’s town budget workshop, the cost of each officer was estimated at $81,000, which includes a $48,000 salary, benefits, uniforms, and other related costs.
Finance Director Steve Gniadek and Chief Fuchs will be quantifying the overtime appropriation that is needed and document the costs to implement two officers. If the meeting approves the two officers, they would be hired before the fiscal year ends.
A joint meeting with the selectmen, the finance board and the Redding school board and school administrators to discuss the requested expenditure is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28, the date of the regular finance board meeting, but the meeting has been moved from town hall to the Redding Community Center. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m.
The selectmen also plan to have an informational session at this meeting to explain the job of an SRO. If the finance board approves the requests, the selectmen would set the town meeting date at this meeting, said Ms. Ketcham.