Verona BOE Weighs Plan For New Safety Director
One idea requires district to create a new Director of Security Emergency Preparedness position to head school safety.
The Verona Board of Education unanimously agreed the safety of children attending district schools is of paramount importance, but what the board couldn’t agree on Tuesday night was the method to reach that goal.
One scenario the board discussed involved the district hiring an outside safety auditor. This was followed by discussion where the district would create a new position to concentrate exclusively on school safety.
In the latter discussion, Verona Superintendent Steven Forte and board of education member Glenn Elliott took opposing viewpoints, with both men amicably discussing the pros and cons of each action while other members of the board weighed in.
“My concern is that we are layering on another administrative expense when we could spend money actually doing things,” said Elliott. “A lot of this work is currently done by staff.”
Elliott said he would be more inclined to hire a school resource officer (SRO), which is a trained police officer assigned to a school.
Head of Security Proposal
Forte is proposing the board creates a Director of Security Emergency Preparedness position to serve as the head of security for the district, a move supported by Verona Police Chief Douglas Huber, said Forte. Huber could not be contacted for additional comment Tuesday night.
Verona resident Anthony Gardner, who has three children in Laning Avenue School, praised the plan to hire a new director in the schools.
“Newtown has changed so many things, it's something I think about every day when I drop my children off,” he said. “I think what the superintendent is proposing is common sense and the fact Chief Huber and town officials have supported this approach further underscores the importance of doing this.”
The first duties of this new director would be to conduct a safety audit, train school personnel in safety procedures and act as a liaison between the schools and the police department, said Forte.
The board stressed they are not looking to hire guards for the schools, which would cost the district about $1 million, said Forte.
The problem with hiring a safety auditing company is that they come in, do the evaluation and leave the district with a stack of papers detailing safety projects that need to be done, said Forte. The new security director would go further because he or she would conduct the audit, identify safety improvements and then actually begin making those improvements, he said.
The audit would cost the district about $20,000 while the new part-time security position would be an annual cost of somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000, said Forte.
A school resource officer is expensive and not something Forte sees the board being able to afford, he said.
“Rather than spend $20,000 on this audit, this person would do the audit and then actually carry out some of the things in the audit and standardize security in the district.”
The proposed position would be part-time and also be shared between Verona and another school district, said Forte. Although he would not identify this other district at the time, Forte said the security director position would be split 60-40, with Verona being the less part of the split since the other district is a bit bigger, he said.
Other board members also joined the discussion, posing alternate ideas to settle the issue.
Board Vote Later
Board President John Quattrocchi weighed in suggesting the board could vote to create the position and then decide if they want to go through with it. That way, Quattrocchi said, the board would have the ability to follow through, but reserve the right to just let it be an unfilled position.
Another suggestion was to hire the Director of Security Emergency Preparedness on a consultative basis, rather than hire them as a part-time employee.
“We may find there is a deep need for the first six months and then after that the need dissipates,” said Quattrocchi.
Board member Dawn DuBois said she doesn't want to see additional duties pushed onto current administrators, but likes the idea of having “one person and that is their sole task, assessing our needs and comparing us to other districts to see if we are in line.”
“While we have a degree of security we don't have anyone in charge of it,” she said. “We changed our perception now of what's safe and what's acceptable,” she said alluding to the Newtown shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead.
No action was taken on the matter Tuesday night, as board members will continue to flesh out their ideas before taking a vote.
The process would take several steps, said Quattrocchi, starting with agreeing there is a need for the position. The next step would be to vote to create the new position during a public meeting.
Finally, the board would then go through the hiring process with interviews with Forte, Huber and the superintendent and police chief of the other yet unnamed partnered school district.
The board never discussed a re-examination of the district's chaperone policy at the meeting.
The next Verona Board of Education meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m.