RTM debates, then easily OKs, $98K for school security audit

Despite a sometimes contentious 90-minute debate, the Representative Town Meeting on Tuesday night overwhelmingly approved a $98,000 professional audit to improve security in the town's eight public schools.

The Board of Education can now move forward immediately and hire the Kroll consulting firm to examine school security and suggest measures to improve safety, an initiative that gained steam following December's Newtown school shooting.

"We appreciate the hard work and support of the RTM and we look forward to moving ahead with our audit and to improving the safety of our students," school board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney said.

The proposed study will assess potential internal and external threats, security infrastructure and procedures, as well as determine how school officials can work with law-enforcement officials and other local agencies to ensure the implementation of security "apparatuses" in schools and the community to deal with threats, according to the request for proposals issued by the school district March 26.

The audit's recommendations and findings will be presented to the school board and police. School district representatives and police also will meet with Kroll to review draft security reports for each school and a draft district-wide security assessment report. A final security assessment report would then be submitted to the school board in an executive session, according to the RFP.

That assessment would involve Superintendent of School Elliott Landon, as well as members of the town's school-security task force, which includes police and fire officials. The audit will begin soon and will last approximately three months.

"This is of critical importance to our town as a whole," Whitney said.

Not everyone agreed.

District 1 representative Don Bergmann said the audit is unnecessary.

"I don't think this study will make any difference in terms of the actual safety of any child," Bergmann said. "If I thought that any child was going to be injured because of my failure to vote for this study, I, of course, would vote for it. I just simply don't believe that and I just don't think there's any evidence to support that."

District 9 representative Gilbert Nathan said there was no correlation between conducting security studies and preventing massacres like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which claimed the lives of 20 first-grade students and six educators in December.

"Doing the study will not make sure of anything, and that's unfortunate. Because if it would assure something, we would all do that," Nathan said. "If this could do that, we would do it in a heartbeat and we would spend $50 million."

Bergmann and Nathan were two of three representatives -- along with District 1 representative Cornelia Olsen -- to vote against the audit.

District 2 representative Louis Mall, who has a daughter in Westport schools, bristled at the amount of discourse given to a proposed $98,000 audit of school security, especially when million-dollar projects like the renovation of the Levitt Pavilion prompted far less discussion.

"The experts like Kroll are going to tell us where we're vulnerable. Because when I drop my child off in the morning, Elliott Landon is responsible for her until she gets home. And that's an incredible amount of responsibility to have," said Mall, who added that his own father used to be a superintendent.