Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says he knows that one of the things that many is Madison take pride in is living in a community that is so safe we don't have to lock their doors.
That notion, as least as it applies to the town's schools, is gone forever. Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday, where twenty students and six teachers were killed by a gunman, security at the schools has already been increased and will continue to be increased, said Scarice, appearing with Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm before the Board of Finance Wednesday night.
Their appearance before the Board of Finance was technically out of order. Any requests for facilities improvements or additional personal--and both were requested Wednesday night--should first be approved by the Board of Education, and then by the Board of Selectmen, several members of finance board noted.
Drumm, Scarice and other attendees ask for immediate action
But Drumm, Scarice, and several other attendees implored the board to figure out a way, while still working within the appropriate processes and procedures, to get this done and get it done quickly. In the end, the board members agreed, voting 5-0 for a special appropriation of $45,000 to install a buzzer, video camera, intercom, and improved lock systems for all of the towns schools, from the high school campus to the pre-school campus.
The vote noted the appropriation was subject to other approvals as necessary and required by town regulations, including the Board of Education.
Some members of the Board of Education, along with Scarice, and members of the town's police department, have been working to evaluate the town's schools and improve security starting Friday afternoon, working through the weekend, and including holding two meetings Monday and Tuesday night to gather input form the community.
Initial steps to improve security taken, with much more room for improvement
On Wednesday night, they told the members of the Board of Finance that schools are now locked and school campuses are being patrolled by members of the police department. Entrances are also being monitored by Board of Education personnel.
And there is still much work to be done.
Scarice and Drumm said they have come up with a short-term plan and a long-term plan.
Response of Madison Police Department "unbelievable"
"The initial measures are in place," Scarice told the finance board. He said the response of the Madison Police Department Friday was "unbelievable." He said in all his years of experience working in education, he has yet to see a partnership that is this effective. As the tragedy in Sandy Hook unfolded over the course of Friday morning and afternoon, Madison police had already mobilized their police officers and increased patrols at the town's schools.
Then, Scarice and Drumm, along with other educators and police officers, held a series of discussions Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning. Drumm immediately initiated an evaluation of all the schools to see where they were secure and where they needed security improvements, Scarice said.
While the immediate focus is on the town's public schools, Drumm said he is working with the town's private schools as well.
Lockdown drills save lives
Scarice said the school system will have some recommendations for some long-term measures, but he urged immediate action on the short-term measures.
One big takeaway from the Sandy Hook tragedy is that lockdown drills save lives, Scarice said. So, in addition to having the Drumm evaluate all the school buildings for safety, lockdown plans are being reviewed and improved, Scarice said.
Drumm said that after doing an immediate assessment of the schools Friday and over the weekend, steps were taken to improve security at schools that appeared to be potentially vulnerable. "We worked through the weekend to get that done," he said.
Drumm recommending electronic locks, video cameras, intercoms
Drumm said, as a short-term measure, he is recommending that at each and every school, that the school system install an electronic lock mechanism, with a video camera, and intercom at an approximate cost of $42,000 to $45,000. He said the town plans to work with the same people who recently implemented similar systems in Clinton and Guilford.
Drumm said he hopes the town is able to appropriate the money quickly enough so that work can begin as early as December.
Drumm said he and Scarice also heard from many parents who want armed police officers at the schools at all times. While he understands their concern, he said, it is not possible to do that with current staffing levels and the whole town to cover. He said another option that could work as well, is providing community service officers (CSOs), uniformed personnel at key entrances, who focus on who is coming in to the schools.
Retired law enforcement personnel who live in Madison might make perfect CSOs
He and others at the meeting pointed out that Madison is a haven for FBI and other law enforcement types who have made their home here, and that a local retired FBI officer might be perfect for such a job.
At about $20 to $21 an hour, hiring six or seven community service officers as contract employees would cost about $120,000 for the rest of the school year, Drumm said. "That would get us to June," he said. "And at that point, we can decide if that's sufficient."
Scarice said that the community service officer proposal still needs to be discussed by the Board of Education. He also noted that there is "no direct threat to Madison."
Balancing need for heightened security with need for appropriate educational environment
"We have had requests for armed guards at every door. Other people say no, we don't want a police state, we don't want to scare the children," he said, adding that the Board of Education and the police department are trying to come up with proposals that both meet the need for heightened security and for an educational environment that is appropriate for a school.
Scarice also noted that every building is different and had different needs in terms of security.
"Hand high school is a beautiful structure and it's hard to secure," he said. "As a result, the chief has offered to have an officer stationed in the high school, if the board would like it."
Town's youth officer could be used as presence in schools
Drumm said, if the Board of Education agrees, he is considering offering Det. Philip Rosati, the town's youth officer, as presence in schools, with assists from other officers on patrol. He said in addition to Rosati's experience with the town's children and schools, the town just hired two officers who have served as school resource officers and they could assist in that capacity as well.
Drumm said that the hopes the town will agree to both the enhanced security system at a cost of about $45,000 and the additional contract personnel for the remainder of the year for $120,000 and that, in the meantime, he will continue to use the police officers he has to patrol the schools.
Madison Facilities Director Bill McMinn said at the meeting Wednesday night that in 2007 the town had a sophisticated study of security at the town schools and recommended measures that were never implemented. He said much of the information is still useful and can be put to use now as the town considers both short- and long-term measures.
Town's police officers will get to know layout, details of each school better
Scarice said the town's police officers will also be invited to spend time in the buildings, to get to know the buildings' layout and characteristics better. "Maybe just to come on by and have a cup of coffee," he said. "If they know the buidling we will all be safer if something happens."
He said there also is a plan to conduct drills during vacation in the buildings, so the town's police officers can get to know each better.
Drumm urged the finance board to consider the appropriation request prior to vacation so the town can get started on the work.
Chairman asks for moment of silence for Sandy Hook victims
Board of Finance Chairman Jennifer Tung, who started with meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and then a moment of silence in honor of the Sandy Hook victims, said, as a parent, she was very much in favor of improvements to school security. The issue, she noted, was that the Board of Finance usually comes last in line, after the Board of Education considers a request, and then the Board of Selectmen. She said approval by the Board of Education was particularly important.
"We can make no decision until they approve it first," she said, citing the town's regulations. She said that was particularly the case with the $120,000 expenditure for the contract employees. Still, she said, as a parent, she wanted to find a way move forward with the requests.
"Why can't we make an appropriation in advance?" said board member Scott Gyllensten. "This is common sense stuff that needs to be done."
"We are in an emergency situation"
"We don't want to be an obstacle," said board member Bennet Pudlin.
Scarice said there has not yet been a full Board of Education meeting but that members have been part of the discussions about increased security. Members of the Board of Education in attendance at the meeting Wednesday night agreed.
"I want to echo that we are in an emergency situation," said Board of Education member Jean Fitzgerald. "Tom is keeping us abreast. We want everything in place. We want to get this done for the safety of the children. We don't want process and procedure to get in the way."
"We hope you understand how urgent this request is"
Board of Education Member Cindy Wood, also at the meeting Wednesday night, agreed. She noted that 40 to 50 people from the community attended meetings called for Monday night and Tuesday night.
"There was a lot of passion in that room," she said, adding that the town's parents expect action. "We hope you understand how urgent this request is."
Board of Finance member Lisa Marshall Favre said she attended the school meetings earlier that week and agreed there was a high degree of urgency to the requests.
Scarice would like additional short-term measures in place by February
Tung asked whether any of the money could come from the school budget. Scarice did not have a figure immediately available, although he did say earlier this school year that the budget was tighter than usual because of unexpectedly high enrollment in the schools this year.
Scarice said that, even though the schools currently have their doors locked with Board of Education personnel at the doors, that it is only the first step towards greater safety. He said he would like to have the enhanced security measures in place, along with the community service officers, by February vacation.
"We feel this is reasonable," he said. "We are not under attack, but we are vulnerable."
"We don't want to delay this, not even a day"
"What are you asking us for tonight?" Board of Finance member James Matteson then asked, seeking additional specifics about the request and its timing.
Pudlin recommended that the agenda be opened and a special appropriation request be added. "We can always revisit it," he said. "Open the agenda and make the approval based on the approval of the other two boards. We don't want to delay this, not even a day."
When asked for additional details, McMinn said he was comfortable with the estimate of $45,000 for the enhanced security system, although he said it is possible it could go higher. "Some of our doors are from 1960, and some of our doors are brand new," he said.
"We have children in unlocked schools"
Bill Reiner, a Madison resident who served in the FBI for 21 years, then got up to speak.
"I'm a little surprised we had an assessment in 2007 and nothing was done about that," he said. He said he didn't agree that there wasn't a "direct threat."
"We have children in unlocked schools. We have schools with no climate control, so that people open doors and windows when it gets hot," he said, adding that was a problem to be resolved another day.
"Lives were saved" by the buzzer system in place at Sandy Hook.
The Sandy Hook system was easily penetrated by one angry, mentally disturbed 20-year-old man wielding a semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type rifle (which fires one bullet per squeeze of the trigger) with several 30-round magazines, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm, all legally purchased by the gunman's mother, who was killed by the gunman prior to the attack on the school.
However, despite the horrific carnage that ensued, it might have been worse without the Sandy Hook security system that was in place, Reiner said. He said that when the locked entrance was breached, the lockdown system was triggered inside the schools, the teachers had a little bit of time to react and try to hide their students, an alarm was sounded, and help was quickly on the way.
"And we don't have that here? That's terrible. Which of you is going to vote no?"
"And we don't have that here?" Reiner said. "That's terrible. Which of you is going to vote no?"
Reiner said an adequate warning system will not only save lives in an extreme situation like Sandy Hook, but that it could also save "heartache" that ensues when, in a more likely scenario, there is an aggravated parent involved in a custody dispute who tries to bust into a school to take a child.
"Every courthouse, every state building has a person manning the door," he said. "We need that here. We can't ask a secretary to say 'Can I help you?' while she's trying to deal with some kid screaming because he's late for class and needs a pass."
Urges town to take advantage of retired law enforcement personnel
He said Madison is rich in "retired FBI agents living in town doing nothing. I wish I was one of them." He has since retired from the FBI but is still working. "Per capita, this is probably the safest town in America," due to all of the retired FBI, active duty FBI and other law enforcement types living here, he said. He urged the town to take advantage of that resource.
Sgt. R. Neal Mulhern, one of several Madison police officers in attendance, also urged the board to take immediate action.
"I have two small children in school," he said, adding that he is in agreement that there is much that must be done to improve security at the schools. "It's called target hardening. In the past, you could just walk into a school. Those times are over."
Request for $45,000 special appropriation passes unanimously
The finance board then voted unanimously 5-0 in favor of a $45,000 special appropriation to purchase and install the enhanced security measures.
Matteson asked McMinn, the facilities director, if the expenditure went over to, say, $55,000, if the schools could cover that. McMinn said he thought they could.
"If not, I'll give you a check," Pudlin said.