RTM approves appropriations, BOE's request for security measures
The Representative Town Meeting spent almost an hour Monday asking the Board of Education about the responsibilities of the proposed $75,000 campus monitors and the effectiveness of the computer monitoring systems.
However, near the end of the length discussion, Board of Education Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross told the RTM that whether or not it approved the appropriation, the board would find the money somehow to pay for what it believes is the No. 1 priority for the schools.
"We will find the money," Hagerty-Ross said. "Whether it's deferring library purchases, paper or books."
RTM member Bruce Orr, D-3, made a motion to separate the entire resolution into two parts: $269,000 for technical and hardware purchases, like the cameras and PA system, and $75,000 for the hiring of campus monitors.
Both parts of the resolution were passed.
Discussion centered on both parts of the resolution as RTM members posed questions about who would monitor the security cameras and the frequency of monitoring.
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Police, the campus monitors and select other people within the schools will be able to monitor the cameras through remote access via a laptop, according to Superintendent Stephen Falcone. But the cameras won't be watched around the clock, Falcone said. The cameras, as well as the proposed campus monitors, will act as extra eyes in the schools.
"The cameras aren't foolproof," Falcone said, adding that the campus monitors will have many other roles in the school besides monitoring the cameras.
"If an incident does arise, the police department has the ability to tap into the wireless service and be able to pull up the cameras at the school," Hagerty-Ross said.
The Board of Education hopes to hire and implement the campus monitors within two to three weeks. Hagerty-Ross and Falcone said the monitors would have backgrounds and interest in security and would have interpersonal skills. They eventually would be integrated within the schools and become a staff member that students and staff look to for support.
The monitors have been a topic of debate since the Board of Education proposed them just over a month ago. They would replace the volunteer parents who sit at desks at the front of the schools and would serve as an extra pair of eyes.
Four monitors at the high school have been in place for years and Falcone often talks of their importance and that they are in place to spot the first sign of an issue within a school.
There is already $156,000 in the 2013-14 proposed budget for campus monitors.
RTM member Bob Kernan of District 3 told the RTM that he understood the resistance to implement new staff in the schools but that there is a risk that comes along with splitting the resolution into two parts: campus monitors, and technology and hardware upgrades.
"We risk giving the Board of Education half of a program," Kernan said. "What they need is a whole program."
John Bolton, former Board of Education chairman, said he felt the proposal for school security was "worthy."
"The security at the schools are weak," Bolton said. "It can be better." He added that the proposed security measures for the schools are not perfect and can always be better.
Bolton also added that these security measures aren't intended to stop a situation like Newtown, where 20 children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.
Many parents from the various districts expressed their feelings about the monitors and monitoring systems. One mother asked what kind of security will be available during recess when she feels her children are most exposed.
Falcone assured the woman that it's not just the campus monitors who are in charge of ensuring a safe environment in the schools but that responsibilities fall upon the shoulders of all of the teachers and other staff.
"This is our house," Falcone said.
In other actions, the RTM approved the amendments to Darien's Charter, Chapter VIII, regarding Building and Zoning officials and the Building Board of Appeals.
It approved the $518,000 appropriation for the oil tank projects at the seven public schools.
It also approved $202,652.47 to the Board of Education for covering delinquent Darien public school sewer service expenses. The Board of Education challenged the sewer taxes for three years, during which time it returned $350,000 of unspent money to the town.
And finally, it approved $250,000 for Storm Sandy Special Revenue Fund.