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Darien education board OKs 4.05 percent budget increase, new security measures

Published 11:55 am, Friday, February 15, 2013
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Through small cuts of the proposed 2013-14 budget, the Board of Education effectively reduced the original 4.07 percent increase to a 3.8 percent at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

However, once the board included suggested security measures, the final increase over 2012-13 budget came in at 4.05 percent, or $83,224,929.

A capital budget of $2,198,700 was also approved, which includes replacing the oil tanks in all of the schools for $618,000.

Superintendent Stephen Falcone suggested the board add several security measures that were discussed in prior executive session, including security monitors at the five elementary schools and Middlesex Middle School.

The board also unanimously agreed to request that the Board of Finance accelerate the appropriation of $344,000 for new security measures.

The request includes $75,000 for security monitors at the elementary schools and middle school, $179,000 for security cameras and external public announcement systems and $90,000 for various maintenance fees.

"Certainly with the events of Newtown we had an opportunity, unfortunately, to assess where we are, where we were, where we should be in term of safety and security in the buildings," Falcone said, adding that the district always has kept a "close eye" on the safety and security of the schools.

A hardware review was implemented the weekend of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were shot and killed on Friday, Dec. 14, and steps were taken to make sure all hardware related to safety was up-to-date. Falcone believes more must be done, though.

"We have to look even closer at how we ensure the safety and security of the people who learn and work in our schools," Falcone said.

Changes within the schools already have taken place, such as more aggressive monitoring at entrances, which has been readily accepted by visitors, said Falcone.

"Sometimes it's the culture change," Falcone said. "Those people in the community who recognize that what is perceived as a minor inconvenience is necessary to help ensure the safety and security of our school buildings."

Part of Falcone's security recommendations to the board include the placement of security monitors at all of the elementary schools and Middlesex Middle School for the remainder of the year at a cost of $75,000. There are already four security monitors at Darien High School. The monitors have the responsibility of supervising who goes in and out of the schools, constantly checking locks and doors, serving as a liaison with the Darien Police Department and acting on the Emergency Response Team.

"This is not designed to be an armed person who would be able to provide that kind of armed defense in case of a real tragic event, or an intruder, an armed intruder," Falcone said. "We have made tremendous strides in the past six weeks in establishing a new protocol and system for visitors, students, for our teachers for that matter. This establishes a much more consistent system for entry of visitors and the monitoring of those folks."

Currently, teachers and volunteers have been acting as stand-in monitors, according to Falcone, who added that he wants to get teachers back to where they belong.

"This is taking advantage of an opportunity to set in place the systems and procedures that people need to have in place for a long time to come," Falcone said.

While the board approved security measures, the technology budget didn't fare as well.

The $407,000 for technology, which includes SMART boards, replacement of antiquated equipment, software and library upgrades, remained in the budget after the motion to cut it from the budget died on the table. At a previous Board of Education meeting, parent representatives from each of the schools spoke highly in favor of keeping money in the budget for technology.

With the upcoming implementation of the Common Core State Standards, which was adopted by 46 states including Connecticut, updated technology will be crucial for effective teaching; the standardized testing in the schools will be completely online by 2015.

Though the technology upgrades remain in the budget, a stipend for a technology specialist was cut.

Several board members want to see if members of the library staff can perform the same duties as the teacher receiving a stipend. Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross asked that it come before the board again with more definitive laid-out responsibilities.

The proposed education budget now must go before the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting for final approval.

mspicer@bcnnew.com;203-972-4407;@Meg_DarienNews