By Lauren Takores
DURHAM — The Regional School District 13 Board of Education ruled out hiring armed security guards from private companies after a public hearing earlier this week.
Hiring a school resource officer is still being considered. SROs are active or retired law enforcement officers tasked with safety and crime prevention in schools.
Board member Bob Yamartino made a motion to preclude using any of the $400,000 in the proposed FY18-19 budget to hire armed guards for the schools while still permitting SROs.
“From a safety standpoint, I don’t think (armed guards are) going to do a lot to improve the safety,” Yamartino said. “I think it just gets a lot of people keyed up.”
Several parents have voiced their concerns over anyone, even an SRO, bringing a gun into a school.
“Many didn’t even like an SRO carrying a gun, but I am in favor of an SRO as I think most of the people on the board are,” Yamartino said.
The budget includes $400,000 for unspecified security measures, a section added after the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The board allocated $100,000 from debt service, $181,000 from capital reserves and $119,000 in salaries, so the overall budget did not increase.
The $400,000 was not arbitrary. It would cost about $260,000 to purchase 3M brand window film to reinforce windows against bullets and $140,000 to hire an SRO, according to school budget documents.
Maya Liss, of Durham, said during the budget hearing not knowing how that money is going to be spent makes her uncomfortable.
“I’m going to have a hard time voting for something, giving you basically carte blanche,”, she said to the board.
Erica Fenwick, of Middlefield, was one of the people who spoke against bringing guns into schools.
“I’m really not OK having armed guards,” she said. “Even SROs make me very uncomfortable.”
Durham First Selectman Laura Francis said staffing has decreased at Connecticut State Police Troop F in Middletown over the last several years, impacting response time.
“We cannot expect our trained educators to make those split second law enforcement decisions,” Francis said, “and you cannot depend on the state trooper from Middlefield or the state trooper from Durham to be available.”
Funds are included in Durham’s proposed budget to employ the school district’s SRO, should the board hire one, during the summer when school is out to provide additional trooper duty around town.
The board retained a .5 FTE cut to the music department after several people spoke out against the cut at the public hearing.
Coginchaug Regional High School senior Alexander Stephan has been involved with band, choir and musical theater throughout his high school career.
“You hear time and time again that parents are more than willing to support a budget with this position on it,” he said to the board. “It’s such a small amount of money but it creates such a vastly negative impact.”
People said the cut may take away teachers’ individual time with students if they have to travel from school to school.
“When I see we’re allocating $20,000 in our budget for unanticipated furniture needs, it makes me feel like we’re maybe not prioritizing what we should,” Fenwick said.
Jenna Driscoll, of Durham, said while she doesn’t oppose dedicating money to safety, “I feel very unsettled about that fact that you’re willing to spend the better part of $400,000 on security measures, but not what seems a mere $33,000 on a music position.”
The board will host an information session 4-7 p.m. April 24 at the CRHS library. A presentation on SROs is scheduled for 7-8 p.m.
The budget vote is May 8.