The Southington Board of Education has voted, 6-3, to approve a 2020-21 budget request of $101,628,444 at an increase of 3.12%. The approved budget includes an additional $5,000 above what the superintendent had requested, which will fund field trips for high school students to visit and tour manufacturing sites.
Prior to the budget vote, board member Joseph Baczewski (R) called attention to one line item in the budget—an updated security system for the schools at a cost of $56,000. He asked for an amendment to the motion to approve the budget to remove that line item, and instead, use the $56,000 to fund middle school sports.
In the roll call vote for the amendment, Bob Brown (D), Colleen Clark (R), Zaya Oshana (D) and Terri Carmody (R) voted no. It passed, 5-4. Following the amendment passing, Clark, Oshana and Carmody opposed the final budget vote. It passed, 6-3.
The new security system would require that all school visitors have their identification cards scanned upon entry. The security system would share personal information about the individual to school staff, and help them make a decision to let the person in or not.
Baczewski explained he did not want to “pay into a false sense of security” by purchasing the security system.
“We’re never secure when we’re walking out the door in the morning,” said Baczewski. “Coming back in particular to this $56,000 security system to read licenses, I think I would rather see that go toward funding middle school sports fully than being used on a machine.”
He added by the time the visitor gets to the point of offering over their identification card, they are already in the school. If they were to pose a threat to the safety of staff, they would already have achieved entry into the building.
The budget had already included $40,000 for middle school sports. With the amendment, they would be putting $96,000 towards the program. Last year, middle school sports were funded by participation fees and fundraising after the board made the decision to cut the funding from the budget.
Oshana disagreed with the amendment.
“Something can always happen. The concept of a system like this is it is a mitigation,” said Oshana. “It potentially can prevent something from happening, whether it be stopping a parent from coming in who does not have rights to access a child, or a person who might have some issues who shouldn’t be in the school at that point. From my perspective, if you have an opportunity to aid in prevention of something going wrong, we shouldn’t take that chance.”
Board member David Falvo said he was assured by school administration that the current school security system is safe.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” he said, “especially at the cost of $56,000. I would rather move that cost over to middle school sports. Our schools are safe with the procedures we already have in place.”
The board was tasked with approving the dollar amount of the budget. Nailing out the details line-by-line will come later once the town council has approved the final budget. Brown felt it was too early to be discussing the individual line items of the budget.
“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “When we get the numbers from the town council, when we can have the discussion of what can be added or taken away. We first need to know how much money we’re going to get.”
Following the budget vote passage, Carmody said the board as a whole must support the budget.
“Now, this is the board of education’s budget—it is no longer the superintendent’s budget,” said Carmody. “We as a board have to support this budget that has passed, whether we agree or disagree.”
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