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School board backs security audit -- at twice initial cost

Updated 11:41 am, Thursday, January 24, 2013
  • The Board of Education has approved a $100,000 allocation to fund a security audit of the town's public schools by the Manhattan-based intelligence and information-management firm Kroll Inc. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    The Board of Education has approved a $100,000 allocation to fund a security audit of the town's public schools by the Manhattan-based intelligence and information-management firm Kroll Inc. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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The Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved spending $100,000 to hire a Manhattan-based intelligence and information-management firm to conduct a security audit of the town's public schools -- double the amount officials originally expected to spend on the project.

Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon recommended hiring Kroll Inc. to the school board, attributing the new, higher cost to the anticipated scope of Kroll's security study of the school district, as well as Town Hall offices.

"This will be extremely comprehensive and I could not find another company that can do as much as this in the way that they can do it," Landon said. "I think it's a great firm with a great reputation and wonderful recommendations."

A Kroll team will conduct the security assessment, spending three full days at Staples High School and two days at each of the town's other seven public schools, according to Landon. The Kroll consultants will work with personnel from the school district's business office and facilities department and "engage" administrators, teachers and parents at each school to assess needs and develop recommendations, Landon added.

A school-security report from Kroll is expected by April, but Landon pointed out that "much of it will have to be held in confidence, because we really don't want any intruder, external or internal, to know exactly what we've done to prevent harm to our students."

Kroll has extensive security-consulting experience in the U.S. and abroad, which includes a number of American universities, Federal Reserve banks, federal courthouses, convention centers, hotels, hospitals, airports, sports stadiums, and technology and data centers.

Kroll employees also have law-enforcement backgrounds, who will work with Westport police, according to Landon.

After a brief discussion, education board members quickly moved to approve the higher expenditure to hire Kroll.

No audience members commented Monday on the education board's vote for the new $100,000 allocation for the security audit.

Education officials were moved to initiate a new review of security at the town's public schools by the shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which took the lives of 20 first-grade students and six educators. At the Board of Education's request, the Board of Finance on Jan. 2 approved a $50,000 allocation for the security audit. The proposed $100,000 expenditure for Kroll's review will require a new approval from the finance board, as well as support by the Representative Town Meeting.

If the Board of Finance or the RTM turns down the $100,000 request, the school district would not be able to afford the Kroll study, Landon said in response to a question from school board member Mark Mathias.

Earlier this month, education officials and First Selectman Gordon Joseloff agreed to expand the security audit to include Town Hall, where an 86-year-old Westport woman brought a BB rifle and ammunition to the Representative Town Meeting's Jan. 8 debate of a citizens petition calling for a national ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Since the Newtown tragedy, a number of parents have also voiced their concerns at Board of Education meetings about student safety. While many have expressed support for a new security audit, some parents have signaled dissatisfaction with school officials for not taking more immediate steps to ensure school security.

"It's been five weeks since Sandy Hook, three weeks since I started sending you guys emails, one week since I was here last week and 8:30 today at Coleytown [Elementary School], the doors were wide open," said Jon Zames, the father of a Coleytown Elementary student. "This is a failure, so I'm curious who up here is going to accept responsibility for that failure."

Later in the meeting, Landon said that locking all school doors, including during after-school events, would constitute a "huge undertaking."

"If we were to lock the doors, it would mean people would not have access to our schools," Landon added. "I'm anticipating that when this audit is in, it will give us suggestions and recommendations on how to do that and then we'll have to make a community decision as to what the cost is and how to go about addressing those issues."

In an interview with the Westport News after Tuesday's meeting, board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney said the comprehensiveness of the Kroll security study justifies its $100,000 price tag.

"It's most important to do our best to ensure the safety of our kids," she said.

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