The district held its first discussions Tuesday on the 2013-14 school budget, and $30,000 has been earmarked for possible increased security at the Bridgewater-Raritan High School—all as discussed prior to Friday’s tragic school shooting in Connecticut.
According to Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder, there is currently a parking lot security person at the school, and principal Brett Charleston has suggested hiring at least two more to be stationed at different parts of the campus.
“The high school is an open campus, and security issues have always been a concern,” Schilder said.
The original proposal, Schilder said, had been for five additional security personnel to roam the campus all day, including in the early morning hours and the early evening for sports and other events.
“We scaled back on that for financial reasons, but the events of last Friday have of course made me think more about it,” he said.
Board member Jill Gladstone said she would be interested in more discussion about the security at the high school, and whether it would be beneficial to have an armed officer, as opposed to the unarmed security personnel.
“I would like to see more creativity and maybe out-of-the-box thinking in light of what happened, and especially the open campus at the high school,” she said. “Maybe we can talk to the police departments and maybe a security expert, just get outside opinions. Maybe we do need to get an outside third party security expert to evaluate.”
Schilder said it would cost about $75,000 to get a police officer, as opposed to a similar amount for five extra security personnel, some of whom might be former police officers.
“I asked Mr. Charleston if he had his druthers which he would want,” he said. “After a long pause, he said he would rather have five security.”
“Because of the spread and layout of the campus, he would rather have six people roaming the campus rather than two,” he added.
Board member Cindy Cullen said she thinks additional training for staff would be beneficial, thereby having 300 people vigilant, rather than just the five wandering campus.
“If we bring in a substantial number of security personnel, will the staff become less involved?” she asked. “Maybe we should think about training existing staff about how to be aware of what’s going on, rather than bringing in more people.”
Schilder said he does intend to continue training, but this eliminates the additional security outside.
“Those 300 people are inside and in classrooms,” he said. “There are huge areas that are very accessible, and this would be the primary purpose of the security personnel.”
In response to other questions from the board, Schilder said they can set aside money for studies and possible purchases for additional security, although that could end up being substantially more than $30,000.
“If that’s the case, the finance committee wrestles with that, and what tax levy they are comfortable with,” he said.
Board member Jeffrey Brookner said he is hesitant about going too far along with this, and expressed concerns that spending more money would just make people feel like they are more secure without actually providing the additional security.
“If there had been an armed security guard at the entrance to the school, he would have been the first victim,” he said. “Unless we are going to have SWAT teams patrolling, there is nothing that we can do.”
“I hate to say there is nothing we can do about it, and I don’t want there to be nothing,” he added, “but I really feel that the kind of money we’re talking about is more about making people feel we have security rather than actually having it.”
Discussions will continue on the level of security needed, but Schilder said everyone should remember that these initial discussions with the finance committee occurred before the tragedy in Connecticut.
“I don’t think the intention was ever to prevent something like what happened,” he said. “It was more like what we currently have, at the parking facility, to make sure no one comes on the facility, and that people don’t leave the facility.”