At the Board of Education meeting held last Thursday evening, April 10, the board members reviewed suggestions made by school administrators for items to cut from the education budget for FY ’15. The suggested cuts were compiled after the Board of Finance requested $750,000 in reductions be made to the budget originally presented by school officials.
On the suggested cut list presented Thursday night were two items related to security: to eliminate the $85,000 salaried “Threat Assessment Coordinator,” a new position that would have been created at the suggestion of the Wilton Security Task Force, to act as a mental health professional at Middlebrook and Wilton High School under the premise that most threats to security come from within the school population; and $130,00 in security upgrades to the school facilities.
Other proposed cuts include just over $63,000 in textbooks and supplies, and $168,000 to put off the planned natural gas conversion at Wilton High School.
In an email just prior to Thursday’s BoE meeting, second selectman Hal Clark–who chairs the security task force–made an impassioned plea to school and town officials to make the cuts elsewhere, and to preserve the security recommendations.
“The WSTF strongly opposes cutting the coordinating brain and sharply focused person out of the Wilton Security Task Force’s carefully considered strategy to prevent and defend against potential deadly violence to Wilton students. Early detection by watching and monitoring warning signs in student behavior is essential both to save the troubled student from ruining their life and saving the lives of fellow students. This watching and monitoring is not a part-time additional job to be given to already time constrained school staff – smart people trained in creating a learning environment, not in observing and forestalling building threats to security. Nor can existing staff be expected to train future staff and instill a ‘see something say something’ attitude in the school, in the student homes, and in the community at large. These would be job responsibilities for our Threat Assessment Coordinator.”
The BoE meeting on cuts took place just one day after another violent school incident, in Pennsylvania, something Clark pointed out to the officials on his email list.
“The first job of government is providing security to its citizens. Over 4,600 students attend classes in our town of 18,000 which is over 25% of the population. We have one SRO currently solely focused on their safety while in school. We need an additional SRO and the Threat Assessment Coordinator to be adequately prepared. As yesterday’s mass stabbing in Pennsylvania demonstrated yet again, the world has sadly changed. Wilton needs to do more than wring its hands in dismay.”
He pointed out that the discussion on cuts was taking place on the eve of the school’s spring break, when many people who typically would be involved now would be away from Wilton.
“I hope no decision is made this evening or next week while the school community is away on break. Our children’s safety is deserving of full debate by the town and that debate requires the public to be around and aware of the issues at hand. Personally I leave Wilton on Saturday as do many people on the WSTF. I do not want our absence and resulting silence to be construed as agreement or acquiescence.”
The chairman of the Board of Ed, Bruce Likly, responded to Clark with an email of his own, explaining the board did not vote on any cuts but invited the school’s outside security consultant, Dr. David Bernstein, to meet with them.
“Last night we did not make a decision but rather requested we have Dr. Bernstein, who helped develop the recommendation, come speak with our staff and Board about how we might train and leverage existing staff to build a network of necessary skills in this area as opposed to having them housed with one person who can’t be in all places at all times,” adding “the safety of our children is central to our thinking at all times.”
To let the board of education know your thoughts on the cuts, email all members via one email address: email@example.com. To contact the board of finance, you can email the members at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The proposed budget will be voted on by Wilton residents following the town meeting on Tuesday, May 6 and again at the adjourned vote on Saturday, May 10.