North Merrick district weighs security choices

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Feller said that the district has a “pot of money” in the range of $400,000 to $500,000 leftover from past capital projects that could be dedicated to security projects. Using these funds for any security measures that the board might choose would prevent the expenditures from adding to the district’s budget gap — currently at $758,000 — or affecting the calculus for keeping the district below the property-tax levy cap, according to Feller. In 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed a cap that restricts local districts from raising their property-tax levies by more than 2 percent from one year to the next.

Feller said that he does not expect the North Merrick School District would hire a private security consultant, as the Merrick School District did last month. “We’ve taken our own inventory based on our knowledge of what’s good practice out in the field, our attendance at recent safety presentations, and we also talked to our architect and Nassau BOCES Health and Safety,” Feller said. “A lot of the things are similar to what the Merrick School District is doing.”

Multiple board and district officials, as well as several parents at the March 12 meeting, emphasized that schools need to take a holistic approach to security, including evaluating many other potential threats in addition to that of a hypothetical active shooter, considering how children will be affected by new security measures, and seeking a balance between security and maintaining a positive learning environment.

North Merrick parent Anthony Vitale cautioned that security procedures can have an “adverse” psychological and emotional effect on young children. “I just urge you to keep in your minds … that these are small children that come into the building,” Vitale said. “The thing that I moved here for, and that I’ve fallen in love with in all of our schools … is the welcoming feeling.”

Feller concurred. “You can’t destroy the character of a school at the price of making it into a fortress,” Feller said, paraphrasing a statement made in the PBS special “After Newtown: The Path to Violence,” which Saitta screened an excerpt from as part of his presentation.

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