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School officials pressed on bid for more money for security survey

Updated 8:23 am, Thursday, February 7, 2013
  • Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon and Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney plead their case for an additional $50,000 for a security study of town schools at Wednesday's Board of Finance meeting.  WESTPORT NEWS, CT 2/6/13 Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News

    Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon and Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney plead their case for an additional $50,000 for a security study of town schools at Wednesday's Board of Finance meeting. WESTPORT NEWS, CT 2/6/13

    Photo: Paul Schott

 

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A security audit of Westport's public schools proposed by education officials faced a rigorous public review Wednesday as Board of Finance members pressed for emergency-management officials to be more actively involved in the study before they act on a request for an additional $50,000 to pay for the project.

An initial $50,000 for the study was approved Jan. 2 by the finance board, but school officials now want another $50,000 to finance the $100,000 cost of a security review by the Manhattan-based firm, Kroll Inc. The Board of Education last month unanimously approved the $100,000 request to hire Kroll, but that must also be approved by the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting. The security study would cover the town's eight public schools, as well as the school district's computer learning center on Riverside Avenue.

"From my point of view, there is no better than Kroll security," Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said Wednesday. "Their range of experience and talent was just what our children need and deserve."

Moved by the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, education officials have argued that a new audit is essential for the school district to implement the most effective security measures at town schools. While all the finance board members appear to back a new security review, a number of them expressed dissatisfaction Wednesday that the town's Police Department was not consulted by school officials before their selection of Kroll.

"The process is screwed up," said finance board member John Pincavage. "It's like the Marines decided to land on the beach with an amphibious landing and then they look over their shoulder and say, `Oh, Navy, come along and back us up.' Instead of getting the people involved and putting a strategy together, figuring out what the game plan is going to be, and having a lot of input from valuable sources in the town, it's like a decision was made, `OK, I want to take this firm.' "

Police Chief Dale Call said he would like the town's emergency services to work more closely with school officials and other town officials in developing the security study. He also reported that his department was not invited to a Board of Finance closed-doors "executive session" held shortly before the panel voted last month to approve the education board's original $50,000 funding request for the audit.

"Police, fire and EMS need to be intimately involved," Call said. "The biggest problem that you will see in any plan that works with school systems and police departments is there's silo one and silo two, and nobody talks to each other. If we've learned anything, everybody's got to talk and there's got to be communication. There needs to be real participation by the emergency services."

After agreeing to more actively involve emergency-management officials in planning the proposed security audit, education officials also sought to allay finance board members' concerns that the study's recommendations would not be implemented after the study is finished.

"We have zero interest in doing something like this and letting it sit on a shelf," said Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney. "We are absolutely doing this because we believe it is the best investment of our resources."

Finance and education board members also discussed enacting more of the recommendations included in the last security survey of Westport's public schools, conducted in 2006 by the security consulting firm, SafirRosetti. The school district carried out several of that study's recommendations, including the installation of buzzer systems at main entrances and surveillance cameras at all schools, Landon said.

That study included other effective, but expensive proposals, which have not yet been put in place, Call said. He did not specify those recommendations from the SaffirRosetti audit.

In an interview with the Westport News after Wednesday's meeting, Call ruled out placing police officers in the schools. With the Police Department's current staffing levels, "it's not even an option for us," he said.

Besides Kroll, the school district has not received any other written proposals for a new security audit, Landon told the finance board. Mirroring the reservations expressed last week by several RTM members, finance board member Brian Stern signaled that he would prefer that town officials have other proposals to consider.

"What we're asked today is, is this the right amount of money for the study?" he said. "When you only have one person responding to it, I don't know how you can judge that. It seems to me we should have had at least a couple or three responses to this thing."

The school district is not obligated to put the security audit out to bid because it is a service contract, according to Landon.

Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner suggested, meanwhile, the formation of a new school-security task force. Landon immediately responded that he would implement that idea. Composed of school administrators, police and "community members," that group will analyze the security study's recommendations to "ensure they are totally Westport-driven," Landon told the Westport News after Wednesday's meeting.

The Board of Finance did not vote Wednesday on the Board of Education's request for an additional $50,000 for the Kroll study. Members of the finance panel indicated they would vote on that appropriation at a meeting set for Wednesday, Feb. 13 , in Town Hall.

Security at municipal offices

The proposed school district security audit will not include municipal buildings, such as Town Hall and the Westport Public Library. In lieu of ask funding for a new security review of municipal sites, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff told the Board of Finance on Wednesday that he would instead seek to "implement something as soon as possible."

Related to municipal building security, Joseloff reported that he has directed Call and Public Works Director Steve Edwards to review "what we can do," and to spend money from this year's budget "if necessary." Joseloff's proposed 2013-14 budget also includes some "security funds."

"I'm relying on the [police] chief and the fire chief for their expertise and the resources they should have, consistent with the town building facilities guys, to see what we can do around Town Hall, the library and the senior center, which is not that much," Joseloff added.

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