Council approves school security funding

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Tolland - posted Wed., Jan. 23, 2013
Councilman Rick Field said he hoped more drastic measures would not be needed, as the Tolland Town Council discussed security upgrades at the town's schools. Photos by Steve Smith.
Councilman Rick Field said he hoped more drastic measures would not be needed, as the Tolland Town Council discussed security upgrades at the town's schools. Photos by Steve Smith.

Responding, as many towns have, to the tragedy in Newtown, the Tolland Town Council held a public hearing on Jan. 22, and voted to appropriate $54,990 for district-wide security upgrades at Tolland schools.

At its meeting on Jan. 4, the Board of Education had voted to move funds from four other accounts in order to fund the upgrades to electronic surveillance and other security measures.

The sum of $27,634 came from a BOE unallocated capital account; $15,394 was an unused portion of monies for resurfacing the track at Tolland Middle School; $10,000 was from a district-wide HVAC survey; and $1,962 was left over from a sidewalk repaving project at Tolland Intermediate School.

Town Manager Steven Werbner said the public safety officials, including Tolland Public Safety Director John Littell and the Resident State Trooper’s office, have performed security audits at all of the town’s school buildings, and have received suggestions from the school administrators and staff. “Those findings are being assembled within a spreadsheet and being segregated into three different categories,” Werbner said. “Policy and procedure changes, structural changes, and the third being security camera improvements and related equipment.”

Werbner added that a prioritization will occur next, as well as an implementation plan. He added that the state police are offering a review to towns that have a resident state trooper unit and they will be reviewing the town’s plan.

“What we’re talking about is allocating this money into a centralized account for safety improvements within the school system,” Werbner said. “Before any of this money will be spent, a plan has to come back to the council from the Board of Education, for approval.”

Resident Ken Houk, clearly affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy, was concerned that the types of security measures being discussed would not be enough. “I’m assuming that this is all for defensive security purposes,” Houk said, adding that he believes more offense-oriented tactics could be used, and cited the passengers on Flight 93 during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“They realized they were going to die,” he said. “If somebody shows up in a classroom with a gun, there is no doubt someone is going to die. Why can’t we take that message and try to explore offensive modes of security and take advantage of somebody who has expertise in offensive tactics to train the students how to react?”

Houk further explained that if everyone in that classroom had rushed the shooter, in his opinion, he would have only had about three seconds to fire shots.

Councilman Rick Field responded by saying that would be a big change in tactics, and that hopefully the time for arming teachers, or perhaps students, has not come. “Maybe it’s just my naiveté,” he said. “Maybe that’s what it is, but I don’t think it’s that way yet, and I hope it never gets that way.”

After a straw poll of residents showed support for the measure (5-1), Councilman Sam Belsito said that while he believes security is important, he favored waiting until the state and federal funding amounts and possible mandates are known.

“To go out there and start doing things before they’ve reached their conclusions and their mandates is foolish,” Belsito said. “I think that we should hold back until they have come forth and said, ‘This is what we’re proposing for all of the schools.’”

Field said he thought the upgrades would not be in conflict with any state or federal requirements. “A lot of these are recommendations that were supposed to be done years ago,” Field said. “We’re, for the most part, catching up to where we should have already been.”

“Obviously, it makes sense that immediate security concerns should be addressed,” said Councilman Mark Gill.

Councilwoman Jan Rubino said she felt the experts who have done the review were well-qualified and would make the appropriate decisions. “I trust their thoughts on this,” she said.

The council voted 5-1 to approve the funds.

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