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Budget, Security Discussed By School Board

The Oyster Bay East Norwich Board of Education considered school security measures and held a hearing on next year’s budget at their May 7 meeting.

Christopher Van Cott, assistant superintendent for finance and operations for the Oyster Bay-East Norwich schools, explained both the proposed budget, set for voter approval May 21, and the district’s review of safety and security measures and resulting recommendations during its May 7 meeting at the Oyster Bay High School library.

Van Cott reported on the efforts of the district-wide safety team who recently consulted a security firm in the wake of the school shooting in Newton, Conn., last December.

Among the consulting firm’s findings were that some security cameras do not provide a 360 degree view, that there are “dark spots” around the buildings at night, certain exterior doors do not function properly, there are unsupervised unlocked doors, cameras and ID card readers are not working consistently, the staff is not trained, and the burglar alarm system should be expanded.

Recommendations included hiring security personnel, enhancing alarm system, installing additional security cameras and exterior lighting, I.D. card readers, installing panic buttons, developing security procedures and providing training for existing staff, Van Cott said.

Some of the firm’s recommendations have been completed, Van Cott said, such as offering floor plans of the schools to local police, entering into a security camera maintenance contact, servicing I.D. badge readers, decreasing the number of unlocked doors and manning those that are unlocked, providing radios to recess monitors, and sending e-mail reminders about I.D. cards.

In addition, Van Cott said, the district has been working to offer additional training for personnel.

Van Cott said that other recommendations to implement would include additional security cameras, burglar alarm enhancement, installing panic buttons, adding exterior lights and I.D. card readers, and window glazing. The total cost of these implementations would be no more than $100,000.

Furthermore, Van Cott said, the security team is considering lockdown drills at the schools, writing up formal security procedures, both at which could be done for no additional costs.

 Other possible measures include employing a monitoring system through Nassau BOCES and possibly hiring of security guards and use of the security firm at certain schools events. These would involve budget-related discussion.

Other recommendations include a visitor management system and entry way improvements at James H. Vernon School and Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, and integrating security systems, Van Cott explained.

One school board member raised concern about having security guards. “Our main concern is our children. They have to feel safe and secure,” Robin Dando said. “We have to think long and hard about having security guards. Their presence,” she remarked, “would make students feel less safe.”

“I don’t think they are secure,” said Maryann Santos. “I think security is lax.”

Regarding the proposed 2013-2014 budget, “the most important thing,” Van Cott said, is that it asks for a 3.08 percent increase in the district tax levy, which is within the state limit. The board approved the budget at its April 16 meeting after months of discussion (See Oyster Bay Enterprise-Pilot 04/26/2013).

The $53.5 million dollars budget, Van Cott said, consists largely of program expenses — 73.3 percent — including teachers’ salaries, various educational services, and student transportation. Administrative costs comprise 13.2 percent of the budget.

During the public discussion, Grace Searby, a former board member, protested that more was not done to reduce the budget. She also complained that the details of the budget were not fully revealed to the public.

School Board President Ann Marie Longo replied that copies of the line by line budget are available at the three district schools, the administration building, and Oyster Bay-East Norwich Library.

One parent lamented the lack of money for certain music programs, such as string instruments in addition to brass and woodwinds, and such programs as Lego robotics.

“I’m with you,” on the benefits of string instruments and other programs, Longo said, “but we are under budget constraints.”

In addition to the school budget, which will be listed as Proposition No. 1, voters will be asked to approve Proposition No. 2, an amendment to extend and expand the district’s existing capital reserve fund, which was approved in 2006 for 10 years and with $10 million. The amendment would extend the reserve fund to 2026 and increase it to $20 million.

Proposition No. 3 asks voters to pass a proposal for the district to spend as much as $1.72 million dollars on various capital projects discussed the past school board meetings from the existing capital reserve fund.

Proposition Four involves the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Public Library’ 2013-14 budget of $1,822,919.

Voters will consider two seats on the school board, each of which will be for a four-year term. Candidates are: Dr. Michael Castellano, an incumbent; Harriet Dorfman; and Jennifer Romeo.

Jim Mattel, now vice president of the school board, had planned to run for re-election, but announced his withdrawal for health reasons (See related story). The deadline for candidates to file has been extended to May 14 but at press time no additional candidates have filed.

Voting will be May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gymnasium lobby. Absentee ballots are available and more information can be found on the district website.

Dr. Phyllis Harrington, superintendent of schools, who recently announced that she is leaving the district to become superintendent in Oceanside, was not present. In response to a question, Longo said that that the board is “still in discussion” about finding a successor.