School security director proposal draws scrutiny in Ridgefield

A director of security for the schools system? The selectmen seem to have some doubts.

No one wants to shortchange school security, but the idea of adding an $85,000 administrator to the schools’ payroll drew some skeptical reactions during the Board of Selectmen’s first budget review session Monday night, Feb. 3.

“My concern is the beginning of another cost center,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi.

Selectmen Sean Connelly expressed a similar concern.

“A new person can come in, director of safety and security, and say ‘none of this is good enough. We have to spend more money,’ ” Connelly said.

“There’ll be costs with that person,” agreed Police Commission member George Kain, there for a review of the police department’s budget requests.

Schools’ request

The $102 million school budget put forward by interim Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote proposed adding two new employees to the school staff — without cutting any positions, amid a continued enrollment decline. The school system has some 734 positions now.

Paddyfote’s budget calls for a new $85,000 director of security to oversee safety issues on all school properties, and also an additional $60,000 social worker position at the high school.

Employee salaries and benefits make up 80 percent of the proposed $102 million budget. Paddyfote told Saturday’s school budget hearing that “people are the most important” element of the schools’ success.

The selectmen have no control over the school budget — they make a “non-binding recommendation” to the Board of Finance. It’s the finance board’s job to send final school and town budget proposals, and a new recommended tax rate, to voters at the May budget referendum.

Still, the proposed school security director came up during the selectmen’s discussion of the police department’s budget request. The police department is seeking an increase of a little over two percent to its more than $5 million budget.

The selectmen were just starting their review of a $38 million town departments budget that would increase a little over three percent.

Among their goals is to lower the 3.69 percent tax increase that would be needed to support the entire $140 million town and school budget for 2020-21, as it is currently proposed.

Security audit

Police Chief Jeff Kreitz was upbeat about school security, and the job done by the department’s school resource officers (SROs).

“Not only are they dealing with incidents, they’re a resource for the parents,” Kreitz said. “The state police go through the schools with our SROs. It’s almost a security audit. And they were pleased and impressed.”

The chief’s positive assessment was recalled later in the evening, as discussion returned to the addition of the $85,000-a-year administrative position

“Security at the schools is good,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners. “I don’t know that we need that security director.”

“It’s only money,” said Marconi, with a note of irony.

“It’s our children’s safety and protection,” said Police Commissioner Kain.

Selectman Bob Hebert said that since 2015-16, the school system had lost 437 students, while the school budget had increased more than $16 million over those five years.

“You look at the total staff, it’s going up,” Hebert said.

Give and take?

Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark wondered if the Board of Education might balance the addition of the security director by reductions elsewhere in the school budget.

“Maybe there’s another program we could phase out — a give and take, not a layering on,” Kozlark said.

The selectmen recalled that Paddyfote had said the security director would take on responsibilities now split between two other central office administrators. What would they be doing after their duties were reduced?

Connelly, a former finance board member, said that in recent years — particularly since the Sandy Hook shooting in nearby Newtown — requests concerning school security don’t run into much resistance.

Marconi said those kinds of decisions are inevitably tough.

“Every community goes through that, says ‘What’s enough?’ ” Marconi said.