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As school officials seek security survey bids, RTM members fault criteria

Published 6:58 am, Tuesday, March 26, 2013
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The Westport school district Monday issued a "request for proposals" for a new security audit of the town's eight public schools, a document that has already attracted criticism from some Representative Town Meeting members.

The proposed security study would examine potential internal and external threats, security infrastructure and procedures and determine how school officials can work with law-enforcement officials and other local agencies to ensure the implementation of security "apparatuses" in schools and the community to deal with threats.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the RFP process and I'm confident that we will end up with a proposal that will help us to further enhance the safety and security of our students," Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney said Monday.

The RFP calls for the security study to include:

- A "comprehensive assessment" of needs and threats related to architecture, operational guidelines, technical security and organizational structure of each school, as well as the school district as a whole.

- An examination of "security mechanisms" within the schools to identify and evaluate staff training needs and possible obstacles to sharing internal-threat information with other stakeholders such as law-enforcement officials.

- A review of existing crisis plans, with recommendations that "include, but are not limited to, frequency of review, related training and practice, how and how frequently emergency services are to be included in such drills"

- Interviews with police and fire officials and other emergency-service representatives for input related to solutions and recommendation. Interviews with school administrators and staff, Parent-Teacher Association representatives and education board members

The security review's recommendations and findings will be presented to the Board of Education and police. School district representatives and police will also meet with the firm that conducts the audit to review draft security reports for each school and a draft district-wide security assessment report. A final security assessment report will then be submitted to the school board at a closed-door "executive session," according to the RFP.

Other than police, the RFP does not call for the audit's recommendations and findings to be presented to any municipal officials, not even First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.

Not included in the survey scope outlined by the RFP is the school district's computer learning center on Riverside Avenue; school officials had earlier proposed to study that building's security as well.

Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said he wrote the RFP's scope of services, requirements and "report generation" sections, after receiving input from Westport police.

Bids are due by April 8. Landon said he hopes to recommend a proposal to the education board by April 29. The board will then vote to select a bid. Its members tentatively plan to seek funding approval for the audit in May from the RTM, according to Whitney.

Police Chief Dale Call told the Westport News he would like his department to be involved in the evaluation of bids. Once a proposal is chosen, Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner and Vice Chairwoman Helen Garten said they would like their panel to review that plan.

"I would hope that before end of current fiscal year, we would be in a position where if there are necessary capital improvements resulting from it [the audit], we could have presented those to the Board of Finance and RTM so we could implement as much as possible during summer and be prepared as possible for the fall," Landon said Monday.

Education officials' desire to launch a new security study was largely motivated by the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. That proposal quickly gained broad support, with the Board of Education and Board of Finance both approving a $100,000 appropriation for an audit conducted by Kroll, a Manhattan-based security consulting firm.

But education officials then faced increasing criticism from RTM members for not soliciting other bids for the prospective security survey aside from Kroll's proposal. The proposed $100,000 appropriation for the study failed to gain majority support from the RTM's Finance, Public Protection and Education committees at a joint Feb. 28 meeting.

In a move to address RTM members' concerns, the school board on March 5 withdrew its requested allocation for the Kroll study an hour before the full RTM was poised to act on it. Whitney at the time announced in an email to RTM members that the board would instead put the security audit out to bid. That decision was widely praised by RTM members.

But some RTM members have already expressed concerns about the audit RFP, in particular its requirements that bidders have 15 years' experience operating under the same corporate name and a record that includes security assessments for at least 24 federal, state and local government agencies and at least 24 private businesses and corporations.

"This is appalling how this RFP is written," said Gil Nathan, District 9. "The scope of the RFP is so restrictive that it looks like only large multinationals can compete. The structure of this RFP, in my opinion, makes it so that they can have a $100,000 Kroll engagement and no one else. We're eliminating anyone who runs a small business. That's foolish."

Dick Lowenstein, District 5, a member of the RTM's Public Protection Committee, offered a similar view of the RFP's scope.

"It appears that it has been crafted so that only one firm [Kroll] can respond to the requirements," he said. "The test will be how many firms reply to the RFP. I want to make sure that it's a fair and open bidding process and that we cast a wide net for the people are qualified."

Landon told the Westport News that he does not know if Kroll met the RFP's criteria.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott