State’s schools enhance security

Crime doesn’t pay, but schools are paying in its wake.

Amid fears of crime on campus, schools across the state are installing new security equipment in an effort to protect their students. Now, Connecticut is looking to reimburse public schools for up to $10 million in security costs through a competitive grant program announced by Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Tuesday.

Even before Rell’s announcement, school safety was on the agenda in New Haven. Just last week, the Board of Aldermen voted to transfer a $43,941 U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Service grant to Hillhouse High School, which will go toward new metal detectors, portable detectors, door locks and a portable radio system for security employees.

The grant can be used to pay for “surveillance cameras, entry buzzers, scan card systems, panic alarms, portable screening devices,” among other equipment, and “training of school personnel in the maintenance of security at school entrances.”

“Last year, in the wake of a series of school tragedies, Governor Rell directed that the state take a number of steps aimed at redoubling efforts to work with local officials to prepare for in-school crises,” according to a statement from Rell’s office.

The program aims to reimburse Connecticut cities based on their Education Cost Sharing Town Wealth rankings, which are determined by a town’s property tax base and residents’ income. Those who rank highest on the scale will have 20 percent of their funds reimbursed, while the lowest-ranking municipalities qualify for 80 percent reimbursements.

In order to compete for funds, applicant schools must pass security assessments by their district’s local police departments and fulfill the criteria on a Safe Schools Facilities checklist.

During the 2006-’07 fiscal year, New Haven ranked 164 out of 168 for ECS Town Wealth. Should the $10 million, which will be distributed as $5 million per year for the next two years, be insufficient for all the applicant schools, the governor’s office said it would prioritize applicants with the greatest needs for security infrastructure.

While New Haven officials said that it is too early to tell whether New Haven schools will compete for funding, community members have a few ideas of their own.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark distinguished between community policing and school security technology, pointing out that allocating funds to security can be helpful, but that legislators should always be mindful of how those methods can impact long-term goals.

“We need to be trying to define what is going to make the relationships between the police and the community better, and what is going to make the place safer,” she said. “It does have to do with becoming engaged … and [having] police that … know their community.”

According to Marc Magee, the communications and research director of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Connecticut ranks third in educational spending per student, but this money often fails to deliver results in urban schools because it is not directed toward specific initiatives.

“Do you just provide more money or do you try to make some targeted investments? I think in general we think the districts have enough money to work with,” he said. “It’s what you do with the money that matters.”

Though ConnCAN does not focus specifically on school security issues in Connecticut, Magee said the nonprofit’s studies show that school success correlates with having a coherent school culture, in which teachers and students are on the same page.

To this end, community members need to bring students into the discussions of school security, Clark said. Youth involvement in the decision-making process helps defuse tension between students and on-campus security personnel, she said.

“They deserve to be consulted and engaged in this discussion. Then you have an opportunity to influence each other,” she said. “If the adults decided this was best, and don’t consult, I think they run the risk of having difficulty.”

The legislation outlining the grant program also requires private occupational schools and institutions of higher learning to annually submit their emergency response plans to the state government and local first responders. Since 1991, college campuses have been required by state law to produce campus crime reports, but now students and faculty, in addition to applicants for admission and new employees, must receive annual written notifications of the availability of these reports.

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