BERLIN - Officials have considered hiring armed security guards to patrol Berlin elementary schools and have looked for ways to fund them.
“I think (having) armed officers ... is the world we’re living in, unfortunately,” Mayor Mark Kaczynski said at a council meeting when he proposed the idea.
On June 19, Sam Lomaglio, Board of Finance chairman, approached the council to say his board was in favor of the idea. Security guard policy decisions would be made by the council, but proper fund allocation would need finance board approval, Lomaglio said. Additional security guards for the schools were not part of the recently passed budgets.
“We feel that security of the students is the number one priority,” Lomaglio said. He said funds for the estimated $150,000 cost for the positions could come from the $680,000 the town received from the state.
Kaczynski had previously said that the additional state aid was to be put aside in case of emergencies.
Board of Education President Matt Tencza said June 20 that it was against state statute to use funds from one year to pay for salaries for another year, and that leftover funds from the end of the school year are being planned to make up for a cut in next year’s budget.
Superintendent of Schools Brian Benigni had previously said that this new policy would place a security director at one elementary school and two other security guards at the other two elementary schools. The high school had a school resource officer this past year while the middle school resource officer was pulled away from full-time work at the school earlier this year to address staffing shortages in the police department.
The new security director would cost between $60,000 to $80,000, for salary and benefits, with the two guards working underneath the director, Benigni said. Kaczynski has said he heard security guards that are retired police officers, could be hired and paid about $30 an hour, with no benefits.
Sgt. John Flynn, Berlin police union president, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 56, said if retired security guards were hired, they would have to be under the jurisdiction of the school system and couldn’t be part of the police union since they are not members of the department.
“If we’re going to take care of our children and make sure our schools are secure, we need to make sure we do it with our security experts, not our education experts,” Councilor Amy Maier Daniele said Tuesday. Councilor Alex Giannone, a state trooper, said he wasn’t sure whose jurisdiction the guards should fall under, but that the police department should be involved.
Police Chief John Klett said that his department is doing everything they can for the schools and more, and his feeling was that state statute says school security is the responsibility of the schools. He declined to comment further until he had more discussions with the mayor.
Tencza said he didn’t have a preference on if the police department or school board would hire and oversee the security positions, but that school administration best knows the buildings. Benigni echoed that sentiment, adding the school resource officers are involved with the students more than just security wise. It didn’t matter where the positions were funded as long as it meant having officers, Benigni added.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.