Status report on school security study draws questions about delay
Two days after Newtown residents quietly marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting that claimed 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon offered a brief update on a security assessment for the town's schools -- and faced questions about why the study is taking longer than anticipated.
Landon told the Board of Education at its Monday meeting that Kroll Advisory Services is in the process of preparing its final report, which will include security recommendations for all the schools. Landon said he and other Westport education officials including Elio Longo Jr., director of school business operations, had a recent discussion with Kroll representatives "about the nature of the report to ensure that it will be comprehensive and will address all the issues about which school officials would be concerned, including threat assessment, architectural issues and specific building issues."
Landon said he is confident the report will provide a road map that will enable education officials to strategically plan "both budgetarily and operationally to ensure that the safety of our students and staff is well taken care of in the immediate and long distance future."
Kroll's comprehensive report is anticipated "before the month of January is over," Landon said, but Jack Klinge, a member of the Representative Town Meeting, wondered why it's taken so long.
When the RTM voted to fund the Kroll study back in June its members expected an interim report in September, Klinge said.
Landon said the delay resulted because of the number of disrupted days and breaks in the schedule early in the school year, making it impossible to string together enough days for Kroll reps to conduct meaningful work.
"The only way for Kroll to do its work was to be able to observe what was going on day and night in all of our schools in September, and to meet with parents, teachers, administrators, community members, police, fire and the like. All of that was done," Landon said. Additionally, he said Kroll reps had followup questions regarding policies and procedures.
Based on preliminary meetings with Kroll officials, Landon said, "We've had to even rethink some of the things we were going to do in anticipation of the report. Now we'll be changing some of our methodologies."
Klinge also raised a related security issue, this one regarding door locks for school classrooms. "This didn't require a Kroll study ... I'm curious why it's taken so long. It seems to me it's an inexcusable delay," he said.
"I was disappointed to see that in September we actually had an estimate to do it for $430,000, less some $90,000 of state reimbursement, and now it's December, one year after Newtown and the Board of Finance has not yet seen a request for funding, let alone the RTM," Klinge said.
Landon pointed to the thoroughness of the security assessment process as a factor in the delay. When education officials first looked at the door issue they thought lock replacements would cost about $45 or $50 per lock set. Discussions with Kroll led to a re-examination of the schools' lock sets and the types of doors in place. Now, Landon said, "We're thinking that each of the locks might be ten times what we originally thought."
"Our original plan for locks which we thought was so wise would have had teachers go out into the hall to lock the locks to protect kids," Landon said.
Klinge asked if there is a date by which the RTM could expect to see a request for funding for new classroom locks. Landon anticipates it would go to the school board in early February, and next to the Board of Finance to ask for an appropriation and then to RTM committees before going to the full legislative body for final action.
"I'd love to do it yesterday, but the reality is it's a huge job that's going to require empty buildings. In all likelihood, no matter what we would have done we wouldn't have been able to make any changes until the summer months any way," Landon said.