NEW FAIRFIELD – In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, FL last month, school safety and security continues to be a chief topic of conversation at all town board meetings. The March 8 Board of Selectmen’s meeting was no exception. During the correspondence portion of the meeting, First Selectman Pat Del Monaco read multiple letters from residents all urging the Board, the schools and the town to focus on finding solutions to maximize safety and security in the schools. Several of them urged the Board to consider funding for School Resource Officers in each school this coming school year.
In a move to provide immediate security, the Board approved a $70,000 transfer from Resident Trooper Overtime to Police Overtime and related pension and social security line items to allow for the potential placement of town police officers in the schools for the remainder of the school year. In doing this, Ms. Del Monaco stressed that the transfer was merely preparatory and that the Board of Education would have to discuss the move and vote to approve it. The BOE was scheduled to meet March 15.
Ms. Del Monaco noted that the proposed placement of officers in schools was suggested by State Police Sargent Adam Wagnblas, and would be possible as a result of the savings in the cost of State Trooper overtime (the Town had budgeted to reimburse the State for 100% of overtime pay, but the final State budget requires the Town to repay only 85% of trooper overtime.). She went on to state that six of the local town police have already stated their willingness to participate.
In the ensuing discussion, Selectman Kim Hanson felt the Board might be “putting the cart before the horse” in allocating funds before the BOE had met to discuss the matter. He also stated that he felt the funds might be better spent on an independent security audit that could be done sooner than waiting in line behind other school districts for a State audit.
Ms. Del Monaco noted that she had spoken with the chairs of both the Board of Education and the Board of Finance, and that the BOE wanted to make sure that the BOS supported the idea before it considered the plan. She also noted that Sargent Wagnblas is also researching independent security audit firms in order to cut down on the wait time.
Selectman Khris Hall felt the Board should act as quickly as possible because the “degree of concern among parents is very high.”
While Mr. Hanson felt that there was a need to take action, he voiced concern that doing something reactionary without studying the matter could be worse than doing nothing at all.
Ms. Del Monaco stressed again that the funds being moved were to put officers in schools only for the remainder of the school year. She said there would still need to be much discussion between the BOS and BOE over how to proceed next year.
Mr. Hanson stated that he would like whatever position was approved for next year to require someone with police experience who was trained in mental health, bullying prevention and drug prevention.
The proposed transfer was approved 2 to 1, with Mr. Hanson voting against.
The Board also announced that a public hearing to discuss school safety and security would be held Monday, March 19 at 7:00 pm in the high school media room. Members of the BOE, BOS and BOF would be present to discuss options and solutions, and to receive public input. Details are posted on the town website.
In other meeting items, the Board voted to approve an updated Town Investment Policy as well as a pilot program to offer evening hours at the Town Drop-off Center. Beginning Thursday, March 15, the center will be open every Thursday from 4:00pm to 7:00pm.
The next regular Board of Selectmen meeting is Thursday, March 22 at 7:30pm.
By Greg Slomba