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January 30. 2013 12:13AM

Londonderry school safety plan may be amended

LONDONDERRY - The debate over school security and the $466,200 price tag on a proposed warrant article for safety improvements continued during Tuesday night's special school board meeting.

Business Administrator Peter Curro said it's too late in the game to change the warrant's wording before the Feb. 8 deliberative session, but a motion made on the floor during the session could change the wording and ultimately reduce the $466,200 bottom line by more than half.

School officials are expecting to amend the article to $170,000 during the deliberative session.

Curro said some of the money for the project could come from reductions to other budget items. Postponing planned small equipment purchases, for example, could reduce the cost of the safety proposal by about $100,000. About $43,000 in unused funds in this year's coffers could be used to purchase some of the equipment, such as cell and landline phone enhancements and the installation of panic buttons. Reducing to zero the proposed warrant article aimed at funding an employee benefit trust would account for the rest.

Curro recommended the installation of a card-access system be completed over the coming summer should the article pass before voters in March.

Board members agreed that continued threat assessments by the Londonderry Police Department would also be an important component of the safety plan. In coming years, building security would also be taken into account as part of the strategic plan, including plans to upgrade the video surveillance system.

Superintendent Nate Greenberg said threat assessments would be done on the elementary schools and kindergarten sometime this spring. Local police have already assessed the middle and high schools.

"I take security in our district seriously," school board vice chairman Nancy Hendricks said. "For me, I'd like to see us put together our safety plan in a thoughtful and well-designed manner. This seems like a good place to start."

Greenberg said the revised safety plan is aimed at "taking immediate action" while looking toward the future.

"We'd be taking it one step at a time," said Greenberg.

State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said he's witnessed two restaurant shootings and can attest to the unpredictability of a crisis situation.

"Sometimes emotions can grow and we end up with 'feel good' decisions people can make," he told the school board.

Baldasaro said it might make more sense to hire a retired police officer to serve as a security guard rather than install an expensive card-access system. Staff members can easily lose access cards, he said, and replacement costs can quickly add up.

"We've been the safest state in the country for the last several years," he said. "But sometimes by the time the police arrive, the damage is already done. I ask you to take a look and study this before you jump the gun."

School board member Steve Young asked Baldasaro if he believed school staff members should be armed.

"That's a good question," he said. "But if people don't know who has a gun in the school, they might think twice before trying something."

The debate over school safety didn't account for all of the night's excitement. Shortly after the meeting began, smoke from a malfunctioning toaster oven forced attendees to evacuate the Town Hall. With Central Fire Station located next door, firefighters arrived on the scene quickly and declared it safe to resume the meeting about 20 minutes later.

The school deliberative session is scheduled for Friday. Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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