“As far as in enhancing security, at this point, it’s not going to give us any advantage that we can’t compensate for using cell phones and the existing radios we have now,” Bruce Bartmess, director of technology, told the school board at its Aug. 28 meeting.
School security became a main concern of districts across the country following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last December. Since then, a security audit was performed on each school in Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, and the district office. School officials have compiled a list of recommended improvements.
The board reviewed the list in July. At the time, the upgrades totaled about $1.8 million and the digital radio system was discussed at length.
The new radios would have allowed staff from each school in the district to communicate with each other. The current radios only allow staff within a school to talk to each other. First responders in both towns have the same radios currently used at the schools that allow them to communicate with officials when they respond to a school.
In July, board members raised concerns about the number of radios proposed, 259, and the potential for employees to hear confidential information about a student they aren’t supposed to know.
After reviewing the proposal, school officials determined the current radio system is working fine.
“The radios we are using now are working,” Bartmess said.
The bulk of the remaining $1.6 million for the proposed upgrades, a little more than $1 million, is for a new digital camera system and additional surveillance cameras at the schools. The digital system would allow police officers to tap into the feed when they are responding to an emergency at one of the schools, according to officials.
The planned improvements also include installing window film on the ground floor windows at each school for an estimated cost of $16,269. A six-foot high fence around the rear perimeter of Long River for $24,920 and an eight-foot along the rear perimeter of Laurel Ledge for $17,000 are also proposed. There is also a list of confidential upgrades totaling about $27,000 the board has not discussed or disclosed publicly citing safety concerns.
The estimated $1.6 million package also carries with it an annual, ongoing maintenance cost of $136,000.
The school board didn’t discuss any other specific proposals besides the radios last week and it appears voters will be casting their vote on the nearly $1.6 million plan. The majority of the board’s discussion last week centered on when to hold the referendum.
Priscilla Cretella, board chair, wants to see the process move ahead as soon as possible with the referendum in October.
“This is something that we have put off,” she said.
Board member Robert Hiscox felt the referendum should be held after the municipal elections in November to avoid the matter potentially becoming a political issue.
“People have been referendumed to death right now, I just feel we should wait until after the elections are over in both towns,” he said.
Hiscox also questioned whether the referendum could be held on Election Day, saying it would be the most efficient way to hold the vote.
No final decision was made. The issue was tabled as officials look into whether the referendum could be held on Election Day.