After more than two and half hours of discussion, the New Canaan Town Council on Thursday unanimously approved a request from the Board of Education for $274,869 to hire five "campus monitors" for the three elementary schools and Saxe Middle School for the remainder of the school year and for various school security projects, including the acquisition of new communications equipment, front door check-in systems and keypad door locks.
The controversial proposal got hung up at several junctures during the deliberations — and on more than one occasion it seemed the council was ready to postpone its vote. For example near the start of the meeting member Roger Williams argued that the council couldn't act on the proposal, as worded, because $226,000 of the request was for labor (i.e. to pay the campus monitors) and therefore belonged in the Board of Education's operating budget. He suggested the council vote on the capital items separately and send the labor piece back to the Board of Finance for further discussion and action.
Superintendent of Schools Mary Kolek, however, pointed out that the project had already been approved by the Board of Finance as a capital item with the labor included. She said the reason the salaries for the unarmed guards were included is because they are being hired on a short-term, contract basis and therefore are not considered permanent full- or part-time positions on the district's payroll — a rationale which was backed up by Board of Finance member John Sheffield and Director of Finance Dawn Norton, who were both in attendance.
Several council members including Williams and John Engel also expressed displeasure that certain details of the proposal were purposely omitted due to security concerns. Kolek explained that it was necessary to keep certain information confidential, because if it was leaked it could compromise school security. When Williams suggested that the council go into executive session to discuss the details in private, council member Steven Karl suggested they discuss as much as possible in public, first. The council never did go into executive session.
Several council members also objected to the idea of outsourcing the guards, mainly because they were concerned that they wouldn't become integrated with the school culture, like the School Resource Officer recently established at New Canaan High School. During Wednesday's meeting several members said they viewed this as important — at least two said school parents had contacted them expressing a desire to see SROs hired instead of campus monitors.
A motion by Williams to separate the labor from the proposal and act only on the capital items failed by a 4-5 vote, with members Christine Hussey, Kit Devereaux, Joe Paladino, Tucker Murphy, Penny Young and Chairman Mark DeWaele voting against.
Although several council members said they had an issue with outsourcing the guards, Engel and Karl said they didn't want to delay the proposal because of the importance of getting proper school security in place as early as possible.
"I am still strongly opposed to the outsourcing of these positions," Karl said. "However I will not stand in the way of providing security to our schools. I realize this is a short term deal… "
"I think our objections have been noted… I think we're going to have to trust them [i.e. the BOE] on this short term solution," Engel said. "They're going to have to answer a lot more questions before this becomes a permanent part of our culture… I am not going to kill the whole bill over this one piece that I cannot change."
In addition the council unanimously approved the transfer of $12,975 from an old Board of Education Capital and Nonrecurring account to help fund the security projects. Those funds were leftover from a previously completed project to add keypads and door hardware at Saxe, East, West and South schools.