Budget and security were the primary topics discussed at the Lawrence schools’ town hall meeting in the high school’s Little Theater on Jan. 8.
The district wants to upgrade its safety measures after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., but money is needed to pay for security improvements and already there is a financial hole as the proposed fiscal plan for the 2013-’14 school year is being put together.
Superintendent Gary Schall said rolling over the current budget without making allowances for increases in payroll, benefits and an expense such as fuel has the budget to budget increase at $6.5 million. Subtract approximately $2.8 million in revenue and there remains a $3.7 million deficit.
“Knowing that the tax levy-cap [of 2 percent] will be firm gives us a definite framework,” said Schall, adding that the district must begin projecting expenses and potential revenue for five years.
An infusion of revenue could be produced by the sale of the Number One School. “We are very comfortable of where we are, we have made big decisions and carved out what we need carved out,” Schall said. “The next step for administration is to meet with all of the stakeholder groups in a small setting about the budget items that relate to them.”
The district is reviewing its security procedures with the idea of what can be done in the short-term, then what long-range plans could be implemented. “There is a heightened level of urgency, we need to tighten security,” said Schall, adding that examining what is in place, how to ensure security and safety, looking at securing entrances at each of the five buildings, personnel and security training is all on the table.
Some parents at the meeting advocated for armed security. Atlantic Beach resident Richard Libbey, who has a child in the district, doesn’t think that armed security is the answer, but what the children are taught and allowing guns to be available should be considered.
“I think they should remove the theory of schools as ‘gun free zones’ or as some may say ‘victim zones’ and teach the children to run away instead of hid or duck and cover,” Libbey said. “Concealed carry [of guns] by responsible adults, cameras, locked doors or panic buttons by the door will be reasonable and offer all the protection that is needed.”
Lori Skonberg, president of the Lawrence Teachers Association, said her organization that represents nearly 400 district employees doesn’t have an official stance on having armed guards in the schools. “I personally do not think it is a good idea,” she said.
The district already has surveillance equipment set up and officials will look to study how it is used, who is monitoring it and how its use could be improved. “The first deterrent is getting into a building,” said Schall, adding that by possibly establishing perimeters several steps before a building entrance such as placing a security guard in the vestibule of the middle school instead of the lobby could be an additional deterrent.
Upgrading communications and having a panic button in every classroom wired to the police would be ideal, Schall said.
District, LTA still negotiating
What the district doesn’t know is the expense of a new teacher’s contract. Negotiations remain ongoing for the past two and half years. Schall said that a new agreement must be calculated into the five-year plan as well as how instruction will be conducted.
In a continuance of a stance of not negotiating publicly, Skonberg said, “We have no comment on any question regarding the ongoing contract negotiations.”
A negotiation session is scheduled to take place this month, Schall said.