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Finance panel backs $50K for school security study

Updated 6:25 am, Thursday, January 3, 2013
  • Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney discusses a plan to audit local school security at Wednesday's Board of Finance meeting.  Westport CT 1/2/13 Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney discusses a plan to audit local school security at Wednesday's Board of Finance meeting. Westport CT 1/2/13 Photo: Paul Schott

 

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The Board of Finance has unanimously approved a $50,000 funding request from the Board of Education to finance a security audit of Westport's school system, a measure largely motivated by the shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

The new study approved Wednesday night will cover all eight of the town's public schools, and focus on school operations in those buildings and the safety of the school district's bus fleet. The last comprehensive security audit of Westport public schools was conducted in 2007.

"In light of the recent tragedy, as well as the amount of time that has elapsed since we've done a similar audit, we would like to proceed," Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney said.

Whitney made her presentation to the Board of Finance shortly after the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night to make the funding request to the finance panel.

Finance board members quickly moved to approve the funding allocation, with Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner noting that he and his board colleagues contacted education officials a couple of weeks ago to express their interest in supporting the new security audit.

"As a Westport resident and as a parent of three children in the school system, I thank the Board of Ed and [Superintendent of Schools] Dr. [Elliott] Landon for what they've done to keep our kids safe," Kaner said.

The $50,000 funding request for the security audit will also require approval from the Representative Town Meeting.

School board members will move in a "very expeditious manner" to find a consulting firm to perform the audit, Whitney said. She did not give a timeline for when she expected the security study to be completed.

After the audit is finished, the school district's consulting firm will deliver a "range" of recommendations on school security, Whitney added. Education officials will then work with members of the Board of Finance, RTM, Board of Selectmen and the Westport Police Department to decide which security measures to implement.

Even before the Newtown school massacre, student safety had already generated congtroversy for the Board of Education during the current academic year.

Landon and board members have faced repeated and intense criticism in recent weeks from a number of parents of Coleytown Middle School students over the school district's response to a pair of Oct. 18 incidents, during which a bus driver reportedly made obscene and threatening comments to those pupils during the morning and afternoon bus runs that day. The outbursts resulted in the driver's arrest and dismissal, as well as the board's approval of new policies for handling bus driver misconduct.

Westport education officials so far have not disclosed the details of any new security measures that they may implement. In an interview with the Westport News Wednesday night, Landon said he disagreed with National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's call last month for armed police officers to be placed in every school in the country.

"I don't think they'd be effective," Landon said. "Think about how large Staples [High School] is. How could one person stop anything from going on other than where that one person is?"

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