School, Police Communication Hinders Security Audit: BOE Pulls Security Audit from RTM Agenda

The+Board+of+Education+withdrew+a+vote+on+a+Kroll+security+audit+from+the+March+5+RTM+meeting.+

Jamie Wheeler-Roberts

The Board of Education withdrew a vote on a Kroll security audit from the March 5 RTM meeting.

In the wake of the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Westport Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) recommended that a security audit be conducted by Kroll, a New York-based consulting firm. However, controversy over the selection of the company dogged the proposal until it reached the Representative Town Meeting (RTM)—where the vote was withdrawn by the BOE on the day of the meeting, placing the school district’s security plans in limbo.

The contract with Kroll was scheduled to be voted on at the RTM on March 5. Yet, several RTM members expressed concern about the process used to select Kroll, and, according to BOE chair Elaine Whitney, the BOE believed that this concern would cause the vote to fail.

“The RTM focused primarily on process-related questions, not whether the funds would be a good investment,” Whitney said.

Whitney added that due to the RTM’s bylaws, a failed vote would prevent the security item from being discussed again until a new legislative session begins after the November election.

While RTM member Allen Bomes emphasized the importance of improving security, his apprehension led him to support holding off on a vote.

“We’re concerned about safety, but there’s a process you’ve got to follow,” he said. “We weren’t convinced that Kroll was the best, and they didn’t bid it.”

Board of Finance (BOF) member Avi Kaner agreed.

“I would have liked to see the contract put out to bid,” he said.

According to Whitney, the BOE considered other companies before choosing Kroll.

“The [BOE] undertook a thorough vetting process of multiple vendors and concluded that Kroll best met our needs,” she said.

However, the BOE agreed to open the bidding process up to other potential vendors, which, RTM members hoped, would offer services that catered more specifically to Westport’s needs.

“Kroll’s expertise is in Iraq, Afghanistan and inner-city private schools. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work for Westport,” Bomes said.

Another RTM member, Wendy Batteau, echoed Bomes’s concerns about Kroll.

“The firm has great experience, but it may not be entirely applicable to this setting and the climate of our schools,” she said.

Kroll declined to comment for this story, citing confidentiality concerns.

Principal John Dodig stressed the urgency of implementing a security plan for the school system. However, while he initially supported the BOE’s proposal, he understood the concerns of RTM officials.

“I’m disappointed but I understand the politics behind it. The people who hold the purse strings weren’t satisfied with the process,” Dodig said.

The disagreement over the bidding process wasn’t the only controversy surrounding the audit. Initially, the BOE requested $50,000 from the BOF without consulting the police department about the BOE’s selection of Kroll as its security firm. According to police chief Dale Call, the police felt as though it should have been in contact with the BOE throughout the entire process.

 

“I, along with my command staff, were a little confused as to why no one asked the Police Department if there was anything we felt should be looked at,” Call said. “We feel school safety is a community-wide effort and should be treated as such.”

When the school district returned to the BOF to request an additional $50,000 for the audit, there rose a call for involvement of the Police Department. According to Kaner, the BOF unanimously voted to withhold the additional funds until the police were consulted. Only after agreement that there was enough collaboration between the district and the police did the BOF approve the request.

However, Whitney believed that the police department was always appropriately involved in the process.

“Dr. Landon has worked closely with the police dept on an ongoing basis and particularly so in the aftermath in the Newtown shooting,” Whitney said.

The BOE also plans to involve the Police Department in a task force to assess school security, according to Kaner.

A few days in advance of the RTM vote, officials worried that the vote would fail. An email blast was sent by Superintendent Elliott Landon on March 1 titled “URGENT MESSAGE: Will Our Schools Be Secure?” The email asked all parents to either attend the meeting or write to the RTM in support of the proposal.

Many parents responded quickly, calling their RTM representatives. However, the calls weren’t all urging the RTM to vote. Many parents called with complaints about the emails.

“They thought there was a problem, and they ran out of meetings, and they were panicking,” said Bomes, “and it turns out Elliott was telling them to go to the meeting.”

Landon was unavailable to comment.

Bomes also feared that although the RTM vote has been postponed and the BoE is considering other firms, the district’s prior commitment to Kroll will hinder the competitiveness of the bidding process.

“Let’s say you’re another firm, is another firm going to bid on it? I think they’ll think it’s a waste of time,” Bomes said. “I think it’s very tainted, the whole process.”

However, Call disagreed.

“I think that there is no shortage of firms that would like to bid on such a study,” Call said.

In spite of the various disputes surrounding the audit, however, Kaner was optimistic that a plan would be adopted and work could begin on improving security.

“It’s inevitable that it will get done,” Kaner said. “It’s the right thing to do.”