Board Approves Additional School Security Officers

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Thursday August 16, 2018

As a result of increased concerns related to student and staff safety, the district has been working to improve building-level security at all five schools. The district applied for a $25,000 grant from the State of Vermont for physical improvements to the schools, including double door entries, and at the August 1 board meeting, Superintendent David Young requested bumping up the number of security personnel from one to three. After discussion, this request was unanimously approved.

The new personnel would be filling the roles of school security officers (SSOs). For FY 19, there was already one budgeted FTE (full time equivalent) for security that will fill the position of lead school security officer. With one FTE already slated for the high school, Young’s recommendation included an additional SSO at the high school and one at the middle school. The lead officer will perform school security officer duties such as entrance monitoring and assisting in building an effective SSO program going forward. Currently, the entrance monitoring roles are being carried out by administrative assistants, but as the double door entries are implemented, Young felt the SSO role was the right fit. The estimated resource commitment is $45,085 for each SSO in annual salary and benefits, plus an estimated $1,500 to become certified as a SSO.

This focus on school safety is not new. After the school shooting occurred in Parkland, Florida, the district evaluated its protocols and organized a safety summit which took place May 22. At the forum, Young discussed how safety is the district’s number one priority. Adjustments made to lighting, cameras inside and outside of the schools, access control, visitor badges, and having an emergency plan in place, in concert with the city, are only a few of the safety and security measures the district has in place. Crisis teams at each school meet regularly to review current practices, conduct staff trainings, and organize crisis drills as well.

SRO vs. SSO

At the August meeting, the board heard from School Resource Officer (SRO) Kevin Grealis to gain more perspective on the prospect of adding these new roles to the district. Grealis said he did not have any reservations about the job description of the proposed SSOs and noted that the district will have three SROs for the upcoming school year as well as a school security officer that was already included in the budget. Grealis, who is entering his 12th years as an SRO in the district, explained that the SSO role differs from the SRO role in that it focuses on access into the building rather than actively engaging with kids and building relationships during the school day. Grealis said that it is a common misconception that SROs are the safety personnel in the school, but that is not their primary role. Board members wanted to know if the school security officers would be armed, but according to Grealis, state law would need to be changed in order for that to occur. Only police officers are allowed to be armed in the schools and the SSOs would not qualify according to the job description.

Sgt. Dennis Ward, a 20-year veteran of the South Burlington Police Department who supervises the SROs, said the connections SROs have to students are invaluable in times of crisis and said the district was very fortunate the have three.

Fitzgerald, while voting to support the motion to approve the SSOs, noted that last year, for the first time in years, the district saw FTEs go down by 2.08 and with these additions, the district will be going up by 3.2. That’s part of what made the decision tough, from her perspective. Although the dollars for the position are covered, districts around the state continue to face growing pressure from the Governor to reduce FTEs and Fitzgerald noted recent budget votes as an additional layer of concern to keep in mind.

 
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent