Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder is advocating strongly for the board to devote $230,000 in the 2013-14 budget for additional security at the Bridgewater-Raritan High School.
“Not every bit of this money is allocated in my mind or the mind of the finance committee,” he said during his budget presentation at Tuesday’s board of education meeting. “It becomes somewhat of a floating item.”
But, Schilder said, he strongly suggests that about $100,000 of that allocation should be used to hire a second school resource officer (SRO) for the high school.
This, Schilder said, is almost entirely because the school is an open campus.
“I am very much advocating for that tonight,” he said. “I feel strongly that we must increase the security force at the high school. And I think of it as a security force, whether armed or unarmed.”
Schilder said it is important to consider this line item without directly thinking of the December tragedy in Newtown, CT. Instead, he said, the focus should be on the fact that BRHS is a completely open campus.
“There are 11 buildings, and students leaving all 11 buildings every 40 minutes to go to another,” he said. “There are 3,000 students outside.”
“That is a true open campus, and that’s what you find in most college campuses,” he added. “All that I know of to respond to an open campus is by having a security force.”
This additional officer, Schilder said, would be hired and supervised by the Bridgewater Township Police Department, and would have responsibilities that go beyond the high school itself.
For example, Schilder said, he would want to see the officer in the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School from time to time, although not every day, as well as be available to consult with principals in other buildings when there are issues.
“It could be with issues that are relatively minor, but when we need police consultation,” he said.
“And the SRO would be available to do training of teachers, custodians and maintenance workers,” he added.
Schilder said he sees great value in specifically hiring a second school resource officer.
“They are specially trained to work in school settings, and they are hand picked for their desire to work in school settings and their desire to work with kids,” he said. “That to me is a better solution than using a retired officer who probably wouldn’t have that kind of training.”
In addition, Schilder said, he would advise using $40,000 to pay for two additional security personnel members, or what are currently called parking lot attendants.
“They would be unarmed,” he said. “So we would end up with three security guards who would be responsible for wandering the school grounds, sometimes going inside and being in three different locations on a campus that is huge.”
All told, Schilder said, that would create a security force at the high school of five because there is already one SRO and one parking attendant.
“I think this is a credible proposal and makes sense, going back to the fact we have an open campus and we can’t get around that,” he said. “The solutions of putting in swipe cards for the buildings will never take away the fact that students have to be out of the buildings and they all go outside at the same time.”
“And fences around the buildings would be astronomical costs,” he added.
Those proposed additions, Schilder said, leave about $90,000 left. He said he has had discussions with the police department, and they are looking at door enhancements to be made with those funds.
But Schilder declined to go into detail about those plans.
“I am not going to say what those enhancements are because that clearly tells everyone what the weaknesses are,” he said.
Board member Jeffrey Brookner said he is not sure if these additional personnel would be justifiable, although he does agree that it would be beneficial to add them.
“I think it’s a great idea, [they can deal with issues] of kids doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” he said.
“To the extent that anyone sees this as preventing a Connecticut-like incident, I’m not convinced this would make more than a marginal difference in those kinds of events,” he added. “Those events are extraordinarily rare, and spending money because we think it would help is a knee-jerk reaction, especially without talking to experts."
But Schilder said it is about possibly delaying an event and hopefully saving lives.
“Police talk a lot about incidents like Connecticut in terms of minutes,” he said. “It’s a matter of delaying an event so that lives are saved.”
Basically, Schilder said, if you have a security force of five people and one of them happens to see something amiss, he can be on the walkie talkie informing the other officers.
“The point is that maybe you just gained five minutes,” he said. “It’s down to minutes, and just delaying.”
As for the full budget, with this addition of $230,000 for security measures, Schilder said the tax levy has increased to 1.86 percent instead of the 1.76 percent tax levy increase initially presented in December.
These additional security measures are the only current change to the budget as it was presented in December, but Schilder said that obviously the tax levy has changed because of the addition, as have the options if the board opts for a lower increase or a higher one.
If the board were to decide to go up to the 2 percent tax levy increase, the highest allowed by the state, they could add another $168,485 into the budget. A 1 percent tax levy increase would require cuts of $433,249.
The total budget, as currently proposed with the $230,000 addition, stands at $139,509,420.
Schilder said the board should also reconsider its meeting schedules because of the announcement that the governor will be holding his State of the State address on Feb. 26. Normally, Schilder said, the state aid numbers are released two days after the address.
But the board was already planning to hear another budget presentation on Feb. 26.
“If we don’t have the state aid numbers on the same day he gives the speech, I can’t give the presentation,” he said.
The board opted to move the presentation to March 5, when it will hold a regular meeting and discuss the budget again in preparation for sending the budget to the county superintendent on March 7.
This March 5 meeting will be held instead of an already scheduled meeting on March 12.
A public hearing and adoption of the budget is currently scheduled for March 21.