Safety discussion is foremost for Manhasset ed board

Nassau County Police Officer Dan Hedgecock talks of school security at the Manhasset Board of Ed meeting on April 12. (Photo by Samuel Glasser)

By Samuel Glasser

School safety and security were the focal points at the Manhasset Board of Education meeting on Thursday, even though it was billed as an informal budget hearing.

The district has accelerated efforts to strengthen facilities and security procedures. Superintendent Vincent Butera held a series of meetings with parents at the district schools in March. School principals met separately with the faculty.

Butera said a report is due in May that will update the community on the status of plans for security upgrades and enhancements, including timelines for their implementation.

“We have identified the steps that we need to take, but the work takes time and needs to be done in a thoughtful way,” Butera said. He also noted that the district has “a strong history of cooperation with law enforcement.”

Nassau County Police Officer Dan Hedgecock, the resource officer assigned to the Manhasset schools, said, “You can’t have a knee-jerk reaction [to security concerns]. We are not building Fort Knox, but you do want an element of control. Security vestibules are common in new buildings. Anytime there’s a threat you want time to vet the visitors and maybe call the police.”

Designs and cost estimates are being developed for new security vestibules and the district is looking at what protocols should be developed for handling visitors. Training is planned for the greeters who will man the new entryways, along with security personnel, faculty and staff on the proper way to engage visitors to the schools.

The district has 274 high-definition security cameras spread among all the schools and the central office. Forty-two were added this year and 136 are in the secondary school. This spring the district used Smart Schools Bond funds to replace the video footage servers with higher capacity computers that can retain images for six weeks.

The Nassau County Police Department, district security and building administrators can see live views.

Lockdown drills are regularly scheduled and debriefing sessions with the faculty are held afterward. Up to now the drills were announced beforehand but Butera said that the next drill “will be held sometime after today and before the end of June. Not even the school principal will know in advance.”

He said that simultaneous with the drill a text message will be send to parents notifying them that a drill is in progress.

“Each time we do a drill we learn something new,” Shelter Rock Elementary School Principal Robert Geczik noted.

The Police Department has been working on drills for years, Hedgecock said. “We view it as a work in progress. The idea of a threat at a school … there is a very small possibility that an incident could occur.”

A lockdown can be initiated by pressing one of the emergency buttons located throughout each building. This triggers an alarm recording played over the public address system and sends a text message to all staff that a lockdown is in progress. At the Secondary School, the card access readers on the exterior doors are disabled.

Butera noted that “security is critically important but when you look at kids hurt in school compared to other types of incidents it is really a small number.”

The draft $96.3 million budget, meanwhile, is unchanged except for a “modest increase” of $51,000 in state aid. The overall budget is up 2.64 percent and the increase in the tax levy remains at the allowable level of 2.99 percent, said Rosemary Johnson, deputy superintendent for business and finance. The board will formally adopt the budget on Tuesday.

A proposition to authorize a $10 million capital reserve fund will be on the May 15 ballot. Johnson explained that the district’s current capital reserve fund, authorized in 2010, is nearly depleted. The fund is separate from any bond issue; it is authorized by the voters and funded over a 10-year period. Expenditures from the fund also must be approved by referendum.

The budget vote is May 15.

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