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Kaner fumes over Whitney's failure to attend finance session for school security update

Published 5:52 am, Friday, October 4, 2013

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  • Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner, the Republican selectman candidate, criticizes Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney, a Democrat, for not attending the board's Wednesday meeting to answer questions about the school security audit. At right, board Vice Chairwoman Helen Garten, the Democratic first selectman candidate, appears bemused by Kaner's remarks. Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner, the Republican selectman candidate, criticizes Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney, a Democrat, for not attending the board's Wednesday meeting to answer questions about the school security audit. At right, board Vice Chairwoman Helen Garten, the Democratic first selectman candidate, appears bemused by Kaner's remarks. Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney, who was not in attendance at this week's Board of Finance meeting took heat from finance Chairman Avi Kaner for not appearing to answer questions about appropriations for school security.

Kaner said he learned secondhand that the school system had applied for a $200,000 grant to help fund what may be a $1.2 million project to upgrade security. Meanwhile, he said, that school officials has yet to provide an update on the state of the school security audit, for which the financiers appropriated $100,000 earlier this year.

"The Board of Finance would like an update as to where we are on the school security audit," Kaner said, explaining that he'd asked Whitney to appear at the Wednesday night meeting, but that she had declined and instead sent a letter.

"I think it's bad practice," Kaner, the Republican candidate for selectman this year, said of Whitney's failure to appear. "That's my personal opinion."

Janis Collins and Brian Stern, both Democrats, came to Democrat Whitney's defense, saying that she'd provided a detailed letter on the audit.

"She wrote a very detailed note," said Stern, also noting that the financiers had received an update from Police Chief Dale Call.

"It seems to me, looking at the flow of emails, that the process is working very well," he said.

"I would have preferred this being done in public session tonight, but it's not being done in that way," said Kaner.

Whitney, asked for a response by the Westport News, said Thursday, "Playing politics with the security of our schools now will not be in the best interest of our students."

In her Sept. 26 letter to both the finance board and the Representative Town Meeting, Whitney said the school security audit had been discussed at the two most recent Board of Education meetings. She outlined some key items, saying the audit being conducted by Kroll Advisory Services is "well underway and extensive on-site work has been conducted."

Replacement of interior locks is one of three initiatives planned as part of an overall $1.2 million project, at a net cost of $345,182, with additional $90,161 covered by state grant money.

Stern said, "I think it's better for those experts to tell us when they're ready ... This process is being handled professionally by the right people."

"The Board of Education continues to work closely with the Westport Police and Fire departments on all aspects of school security, and provided a detailed update to the Board of Finance," Whitney said later. "In addition, the Board of Education has voted unanimously and in a nonpartisan manner on all school security steps."

However, Board of Education Vice Chairman Michael McGovern, a Republican, chimed in at the finance session: "We have to recognize that it's taken too long for our kind of common-sense suggestions to be made, to be implemented," on the security front.

"By the time we turn the screw drivers at our schools, it'll be the one-year anniversary," he said, referring to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December that prompted the study and state legislation to implement new security regulations.

"Quite frankly, the Board of Education and the town haven't worked as closely together as they need to," he said.