Safety Concerns

FI-EditorialThe Board of Education has known for some time what it wasn’t going to do to increase school safety and security, and now it’s tackling the more difficult question. What is it going to do?

The idea of bringing armed security guards into town public schools was quickly and smartly rejected by the superintendent and the police as a bad idea. But that was always clearly not the best option. It’s the more practical and reasonable options that present the biggest challenges. That’s when cost has to be taken into account. That’s when the town has to wonder if this is really the right thing to do when there’s a good case to be made on both sides.

It’s hard to make a decision in a completely unbiased way when it involves the safety of children. No one wants to be the one who haggled over a few hundred thousand dollars here and there if the unthinkable happens and extra security could have prevented it. But at the same time, the town’s children are not facing a looming threat when they go to class in the morning. They’re just not.

This point was made quite well at last week’s Board of Education meeting by Gaetane Francis, a parent and advocate who has been a frequent presence at board meetings and has regularly spoken about how to increase educational opportunities for students. She pointed out solid facts about the rarity of the kind of events that took place in Newtown that so deeply impacted everyone. She called it a one-in-a-million chance that it could happen in Greenwich and wondered if the at least $1.4 million set for enhanced safety and security measures could be better allocated elsewhere in the district.

She made excellent points, but at the same time, as long as those odds are, does anyone want Greenwich to be the one in that million?

It’s not an easy decision. That’s why it was good to see the board take the time to scrutinize the spending to see its effectiveness. It’s not even the price tag itself that should make people wonder. We should not be nickel-and-diming the school district. It’s the question of, Is this the best thing to do? No one wants to underreact to Newtown, but no one wants to overreact either.

This is not and should not be a situation where the town has to decide to invest in either security or in the classroom. The town does not have to choose. It can afford both. But there are questions that should be openly discussed about the allocation of resources .

Scrutiny is needed, and it’s unfortunate that a decision had to be made so quickly by the board in order to get these allocations to the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) and Representative Town Meeting (RTM) so purchases can be made before other towns act and essentially force Greenwich onto a waiting list. There are times when the RTM can put on too much scrutiny and needlessly delay things, but this is a good chance for both of those bodies to think carefully and then act, just as the Board of Education did when it (at least temporarily) removed $98,000 for bollards in order to first hear more about how effective they might be.

The recommendations for the $1.4 million in improvements came from Superintendent of Schools William McKersie, First Selectman Peter Tesei and Chief of Police James Heavey. Dr. McKersie has acted deliberately and without hysteria post-Newtown and has set the right tone for the discussion. Chief Heavey is not just an expert at public safety but the father of two Greenwich students. And Mr. Tesei, a father of young children as well, is not about to waste taxpayer money.

There’s no reason to assume these recommendations are not good. They may well be worth every penny. But the BET and RTM should act smartly and make the right choices to determine if these options are really what is best for Greenwich without causing unnecessary delays. There’s no harm in having this discussion now.

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