Stamford schools agrees to invest another $4 million in school safety

STAMFORD — An additional $4 million is going toward school security in Stamford as part of a capital budget passed by the city’s Board of Education this week.

The security items are part of a roughly $8.13 million short-term capital budget that includes other items including equipment for technology and custodial work. A separate long-term capital budget, which includes major renovations to Stamford High School and Stark Elementary School and others, totaled $46.4 million, with an anticipated state reimbursement of $11.85 million.

The latter is part of the district’s 20-year long term facilities plan, which includes replacing certain schools, renovating others and shutting some down.

The security component of the short-term budget received the greatest scrutiny Tuesday night, but only from one person: Republican board member Joshua Esses.

He questioned the need for the items — which included $2.4 million for “hardened front entrances,” $850,000 for employee access cards, $450,000 for vape sensors in school bathrooms and $300,000 for portable radios — when the district is facing other challenges.

“I would prefer we spend more time on core curriculum ideas and academics than in training teachers on the right way to close doors and open doors and to enforce and then evaluate that we are doing that,” Esses said, during a motion he made to cut the $4 million line item.

But board members all disagreed, arguing the money would be well spent.

Member Fritz Chery argued that the safety improvements would be helpful in delaying any sort of attack on a school, not necessarily stopping it outright.

“Even if $4 million bought an additional seven seconds, I still think it would be worth it,” he said.

Joseph Kennedy, the security director for the school district, said the investments would do just that.

“It is all about buying time shall an emergency happen,” he said.

Last week, Stamford High School was put on high alert after it went into a lockdown in response to a false report of an active shooter on the campus. 

Superintendent Tamu Lucero said she spoke to students at the district’s three high schools Tuesday night and many shared how they were affected by the incident.

“The impact that it still has on our students and staff, it just continues,” she said, during the board meeting.

She added, “We know that this still has a long-term impact. We will continue to work with our school communities to provide support as needed.”

Lucero defended the security budget item, saying that investing in safety is not just meant to stop a possible shooting incident, but also the more common occurrences of angry parents and domestic issues that arise in schools.

Additionally, she said the district has conducted safety assessments in the past, and one item that came up multiple times was the issue of propped open doors. 

“But teachers sometimes don’t have a choice, they feel, because they have to go out for recess,” she said, explaining why it was such a common practice. 

Creating a key fob system would help alleviate that problem, allowing teachers to easily enter and exit school buildings from different locations, she said.

“We want to make school not a prison but a place people can come in and out of doors,” Lucero said.

Hardening front entrances, the most expensive item on the list, would allow for vestibules at some schools so that staff can more easily identify visitors and prevent unwanted guests from entering.

“Anything we can do to slow down anyone from getting into our building, I will always argue is a good thing,” she said.

Esses’ motion failed by a vote of 1-7, and the full long-term and short-term capital budgets were passed.

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