Darien's school board voted to hire armed security. Some officials say there are still questions.

Students enter the new Ox Ridge Elementary School in Darien, Conn. Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Students were welcomed this week to the brand new Ox Ridge Elementary School, a two-year, $50 million project that features a modernized building with interconnecting common learning spaces between clusters of classrooms and a courtyard.

Students enter the new Ox Ridge Elementary School in Darien, Conn. Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Students were welcomed this week to the brand new Ox Ridge Elementary School, a two-year, $50 million project that features a modernized building with interconnecting common learning spaces between clusters of classrooms and a courtyard.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — While armed guards in Darien elementary schools appear to be inevitable, some local officials said they feel the Board of Education is dodging discussion of the controversial subject.

In October, the Board of Education approved the funding request for six school security officers — armed retired police officers — and a new director of security to oversee safety needs across the district.

The board had planned to go through the town and Representative Town Meeting for an appropriation, but the Board of Finance on Nov. 15 turned down the Board of Education, instead recommending the school board fund the officers through its budget surplus.

During the meeting, Board of Finance member Dan Bumgardner said that the process “may be even quicker” to fund SSOs through the surplus because a Board of Finance recommendation would have to go through the RTM.

As of mid-November, the Board of Education surplus was approximately $565,000. The request for SSOs was $296,000 for the second half of the current school year. 

The Board of Education approved a transfer of approximately $284,000 for security needs on Nov. 22 that included school security officers, the director of security and equipment. 

Several members of the RTM education committee during a Dec. 5 meeting voiced their disapproval of using the surplus, some accusing the Board of Education of avoiding discussion and not communicating enough with residents about SSOs.

RTM education committee member Theresa Vogt said that she heard from some parents that they were unaware that SSOs were being discussed by the Board of Education and did not have an opportunity to speak.

“A lot of them didn't realize it was really happening until the (October board of education) vote happened, and they were disappointed that there wasn't a public hearing of any sort,” Vogt said. “A lot of them were hoping the RTM would have something like a public hearing, because then they'd have an opportunity to say something.”

Vogt later added that the comments about speed from the Board of Finance “raised a few alarms in (her) head in terms of this idea of circumventing the RTM."

RTM Education Committee chair Ed Washecka said he did not feel the Board of Education was going around the RTM because he said "if we're not given a resolution to vote on, we're not circumvented."

Although he said public hearings were not common for the RTM to hold, he added, “no offense to my constituents, but I sometimes feel that people comment too much at these meetings.

“The Board of Ed meetings do not lack for public comments,” he said. “It would seem to me that anybody who did want to comment on this — in favor, against, for something, for some aspect of it, against others — had plenty of time to do so.”

Washecka also added that the Board of Education was not responsible for figuring out how to communicate with the town or get residents to “pay attention” to every board meeting.

During the Dec. 5 meeting, RTM education committee members were generally split over the issue of whether or not armed security should be in elementary schools. 

Superintendent Alan Addley, members of the Board of Education and police chief Donald Anderson did answer questions at an information session about the updated security with members of the RTM finance and budget committee on Nov. 30. RTM finance and budget committee chairman Jack Davis opened the discussion by reiterating that it was not a public hearing — an information exchange rather than to debate whether or not guns should be in schools.

Questions at the time included equipment for SSOs like body cameras and bulletproof vests, the role of the director of security and procedures and training regarding mental health-related incidents.

Davis also said Nov. 30 that the Board of Finance’s decision did not determine whether the school district could or could not hire SSOs, only whether it required town funding. 

“If you don’t like the Board of Finance decision, don’t take it out on the Board of Ed,” Davis said at the time. “Even if they brought it to us, if we had voted it down doesn’t mean they couldn’t have hired the people. It’s their right.”

Davis said he did consider the discussion around the positions important — he stated his own interest in the studies the district cited supporting SSOs — because of the recurring $500,000 price tag on a non-education expense every full school year.

“It’s going to be expensive because unless we come up with robocops to go around the hallways, this will be here for a while,” Davis said at the time.

Armed school resource officers, employed by the police department unlike SSOs, are in place at both Darien High School and Middlesex Middle School.

SSOs are expected to come up in the Dec. 12 RTM meeting to discuss the state of the town.