The $15 million that state lawmakers authorized to enhance security at schools across the state after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings was not enough, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday as he announced the first round of school-security grants.
More than 600 public schools applied for money to install items and additions like security cameras, bullet-proof glass, panic buttons and safe rooms, requests that totaled $21 million.
“Because we didn’t have as much money as the original requests were for, we prioritized… I asked them to prioritize based on the conditions present on the ground in the school systems,” Malloy said. “It is our intention to fund all of the applicants that we had.”
The governor said his budget chief is looking for ways to fund the $6 million shortfall in the existing construction budget approved by the legislature so that all 604 requests can be fulfilled.
While announcing which districts will receive the first $4.9 million –- including 23 schools in Bridgeport, 17 schools in East Hartford and nine schools in New Britain — the governor said that he plans to ask the legislature to provide funding for another round of security upgrades.
“I suspect that the legislature will agree that we should appropriate additional funds,” Malloy said at Wednesday’s news conference at the State Capitol. “We believe this money would be well spent.”
With 1,230 schools in Connecticut, the $21 million the governor intends to provide this fiscal year would enhance security at almost half of the state’s public schools. The 372 private schools in the state were not eligible for funding this round, but Malloy said he is considering including them if the legislature approves funding for an additional round.
What this grant doesn’t do
The state has picked up the costs of school construction for decades — $344.5 million was provided last fiscal year, some of which went to finance security systems. The state is expected to provide $510.3 million this year in addition to these special security grants.
However, funding earmarked specifically for security is rare.
Lawmakers did create a $10 million grant for districts to apply for that would cover security costs (some of which was raided to help close a state budget deficit) after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.
In an effort to ensure the larger school construction pot of money is tied to school security and safety measures, the legislature created and tasked the School Safety Infrastructure Council with adopting and implementing safety standards. Those standards will be linked to schools being approved for their larger school construction projects.
That panel has until Jan. 1 to finalize its recommendations.
Despite these pending recommendations, officials say, there is already a focus on including enhanced security systems in construction projects.
“There is no doubt that there have been adjustments” in their construction planning, Malloy said. “We did ask for specific recommendations come January… We are talking about a world where security has become substantially more important since 9-11. Sandy Hook is taking it to another level.”
Funding for school guards next?
Several school districts in Connecticut have placed armed police officers or security guards in their schools in response to the shooting deaths of the 26 children and educators in Newtown last December — a move that Malloy has said he supports.
But, he said, the state will not be paying for those guards.
“Ultimately that is a local decision,” he reiterated Wednesday.
The General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research reports that several districts have approved plans to spend thousands of dollars on armed security. The state does not track which districts have armed staff at its schools.
Federal funding for security staff, which was provided after the mass shooting at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, largely dried up a few years ago, and districts and police departments have been left to figure out how to pay for the guards.
In Connecticut, the governor’s policy office has made recommendations delineating the appropriate roles of officers in schools. The judicial system has also begun sending incidents where students are arrested for minor infractions back to the schools to handle.
Are the schools that didn’t get funding for security safe?
The state does not plan to release of which schools are and are not receiving state funding.
“Of course we are not going to give a list of schools that we think have insufficient security,” the governor said.
“You don’t want a situation known that ‘Town A’ is not protected… You don’t want a potential perpetrator to know which schools have vulnerabilities,” said Brenda Bergeron, an attorney with Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Around the country, almost one-third of schools already have armed security staff, and 92 percent have controlled visitors’ entrances, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“Our schools are very safe,” said Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. “Because we have seen an increase in attacks on our schools [across the country], that’s why these things are necessary.”
Several benchmarks show that school safety has improved over the past several years.
During the 2010-11 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, 14,049 fights took place at schools; 1,203 students got into trouble for bringing a weapon to school; and 710 violent crimes occurred.
Over the last five years, the number of these “serious” incidents taking place on school grounds has decreased from 50,347 to 43,236 — a 14 percent drop.
The number of less serious offenses where students were still disciplined — for things like school policy violations or petty theft — dropped from 126,756 to 89,802 incidents — a 29 percent reduction between the 2006-2007 school year and the 2010-2011 school year.
Districts awarded school security money in round one (Return to where you were reading in the article here.)