Officials' efforts to make town schools safer, prompted by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed 26 lives last year, got a boost this week when Gov. Dannel Malloy announced Westport will get more than $260,000 in state money for security upgrades.
Malloy's announcement Wednesday of Westport's $261,083 share in $5 million to be distributed among 36 school districts that applied from around the state, came on the heels of a Monday update to the Board of Education on a locally funded audit of school security.
Representatives of the Manhattan-based consulting firm Kroll Inc. arrived in Westport last week to begin a month-long security review of the town's eight public schools and computer learning center.
Elio Longo, the school district's assistant superintendent for business, gave the school board a brief update on the $100,000 survey at Monday's meeting. He anticipates school officials and police will receive a draft report of recommendations and findings from Kroll by mid-November.
Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said he expects the firm will provide an interim report earlier, which would detail what could be done quickly to meet any immediate security issues.
The new study comes six years after the last security audit was conducted of local school facilities, which resulted in the installation of buzzer systems at main entrances and surveillance cameras at all of the town's schools.
One Westport school board member has referred to that tragedy as "the 9/11 for every school district in this country."
The current security review is intended to assess potential internal and external threats, security infrastructure and procedures, and determine how school and law-enforcement officials can work together and with other local agencies to ensure the implementation of security "apparatuses" in schools and the community to deal with threats.
Kroll's study will comprise "architectural protective measures" including entry flow, locks, barriers and doors; "operational guidelines" for school security; and the school district's technical security systems, according to a summary of the proposed audit reviewed by Representative Town Meeting members last January.
Since arriving in town, Kroll representatives have walked the halls of Staples High School, attended athletic events, checked exterior doors for safety measures and interviewed a number of key administrators, school security, internal personnel and parents, Longo said.
"All interviews have been cooperative and candid ... It was a strong week," Longo said.
Even those parents who were not scheduled for specific interview times were welcomed by Kroll reps, he said.
Landon said Westport Police and Fire departments have been involved in the process as well.
One board member requested regular updates on the auditing process, at least whatever can be discussed publicly, because school security is foremost on people's minds, he said.
A final security assessment report will be submitted to the school board in an executive session.
The state money, according to Malloy, can be used by towns to help cover the costs of security equipment such as surveillance cameras, panic buttons and ballistic glass. Also funded will be metal detectors, card and door access systems and signs.
"We will never be able to prevent every random act, but we can take the steps necessary to make sure that our children and our teachers are safe as possible," Malloy said. "This funding allows districts with the most need to implement modern security measures that will make school safer."
The governor has promised two future rounds of school-security aid and asked that an additional $6 million be found to support the program.