The security that has been in place in our schools is now being updated because of the shootings in Connecticut. No longer is a camera and a buzzer at the entrance door over-seen by a secretary deemed sufficient security. Things have changed, and so must communities.
The Director of Facilities has been meeting with school principals and head custodians and getting a feel for what is needed in their building. Obviously, each building is different. It is a daunting task for several reasons. Each building has a different entrance way and floor plan. Each building is used by the public in different ways. Securing multiple entrances changes with each structure. Parking lots and lines of sight are different. Access to rooms, cafeterias, gyms, locker rooms, music rooms vary with each building. Windows, passage ways, etc. The time frame in which to present a plan to the public before Deliberative Session is very short. And yet, it must be done. Things can not be put off.
There will be a meeting on January 22 to discuss what the District Office feels needs to be done to make our school buidings more secure. At that meeting, it is my understanding, the public can make their feelings known. The School Board will discuss things. When all is said and done, there will be a proposal and a cost for that proposal placed in an Article (Article 10) and then that will be brought to the Deliberative Session to be raised, lowered or changed as the Session wants. In the old days the Article would have been tweaked and voted on by that body at School District Meeting, but now the tweaked Article 10 will be voted on in the Election weeks later. The Article that leaves Deliberative Session may only be a facsimile of what is presented on the 22nd, or it may be verbatium. Time will tell.
There is a concern, not shared by everyone, however it is shared by me, that emotions at Deliberative may become counter-productive and produce an Article that could have a difficult time getting 50% of the vote at Election time. Should the tenor of negotiations at Deliberative run towards the childrens security at any cost – which would certainly be understandable – then it is possible that the cost to fund all that security could push the total on Article 10 to a point where it gets voted down in the Election, and then there would be a problem. A No vote on a huge sum of money would not be a No vote to protect our schools it would be a vote to tell the District to come back at a later date with a more reasonable proposal. Not the first time that has happened. And of course the reality is, no matter what the costs, there is no total solution that negates a determined threat.
It is my understanding that the Town has put in an Article for a School Resource Officer (SRO). I have not read the Article, but if it is to hire one police officer to place in the schools then I probably will not vote to support it. The high school has an SRO now. The Middle School had an SRO for several years, but no longer. Pulled out for budgetary reasons, I believe. Happened before, it will happen again in the future when budgets become tight. A political football. Besides, we have 5 buildings without an SRO, the hiring of one is a band-aid approach, and an expensive one.
I am in favor of a uniformed, armed prescence in all 6 of our school buildings. Every school day, every building. From the time the first teacher arrives until the last bus pulls out in the afternoon. That is basically my proposal. I would like the District to explore the feasibility of hiring 6 or 7 retired police officers/security personnel to be placed in the 5 buildings that do not have an SRO. This is how I envision this would go:
The uniformed security guard would have a position near the front entrance doors with a desk and monitors that show the grounds and all exterior doors via cameras. This could be in a small enclosed area, though I would prefer it to be a small open section of the front lobby. Reason for that is simple. An enclosed room is the same as a policeman cruising the neighborhood in a patrol car, noticable but impersonal, as opposed to the officer walking the beat, visible and personal. I think for our younger students that is very important. The buzzer to allow entry would still be controlled by the secretary in the office – the guard should not be bogged down letting late students into the building – but should the guard notice something that alerts him he will be in radio contact to tell her not to buzz someone in. And there-in lies the key to hiring retired police officers. That sense that something just isn’t right. That sixth sense that is acquired only through years of looking for things that just don’t seem right. That is the one thing that the rest of us don’t have.
A police officer has been trained over the years, during countless long nights as a patrolman in a small town where hardly anything is going on, to keep alert to even the smallest ripple in normalcy. Where those less trained might be bored by the normal day to day comings and goings in a school lobby- drop off children, pick-up children, drop off forgotten homework, bring in cookies for a team day, fix the copy machines- a police officer is well aware that things are always routine, until they are not. They aren’t bored by the routine, they welcome it. I know we can spend a lot of money and make things more secure, but without a trained/armed human prescence I think all we are going to do is spend a lot of money and make things a little more secure.
The number I read for an SRO was over $100,000. That was for one person, salary and benefits. I don’t know what we would need to pay retired police officers to entice them to do this job, but maybe we could hire 7 of them for not much more than the hundred thousand. No benefits. They are retired and have them. They have their pension. We need them for less than 180 days a year – 7 people for 5 buildings – and less than 8 hours a day. In the office they have a little Keurig machine. We supply the coffee. The lunch ladies bring him some lunch each day. In the beginning, parents drop off some cookies and pound cake for him. The kids learn his name and he says hi to them when they walk by. If there never was a Sandy Hook or a Columbine, this would still be a worthwhile idea.
If there are any retired police, security, military out there who have read this I am interested in knowing what you think of this idea. Specifically, could the town realistically expect to hire such people at such a reasonable wage for what amounts to part time work.