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Updated: School Board To Vote On Major Increase In Police Officers In Township Schools

The Board of Education on March 28 is expected to vote on increasing the number of school resource officers at the high school for this year, and more than tripling the number of armed police officers in schools next year. (File photo).


Update: The Board of Education approved the tentative budget. The board will hold a public hearing on the budget at its April 26 meeting.

Original Story: The 2018-19 school year could see a more-than tripling in the number of armed police officers in township schools.

Included in the proposed 2018-19 school year budget set to be introduced on March 28 is a proposal that would place one newly created “Class III” special police officer in each of what will be the 10 township schools, in addition to one school resource officer in each of the two middle schools and Franklin High School.

That would bring the number of weapon-bearing police officers assigned to Franklin schools from the current four to 13. That does not count the middle school’s GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training) officer,who is not permanently stationed at a school. There are also a number of unarmed security guards in each school.

The proposed 2018-19 school year budget includes about $300,000 for those extra officers, said schools Superintendent John Ravally. He said the remainder of the money needed for the positions would be gained through natural attrition of security guards.

Currently, Franklin Middle School and Franklin High School each have one school resource officer, who are full-time Franklin Township Police officers, while two other FTPD officers randomly rotate among the seven elementary schools.

The board at its March 28 meeting will also vote on adding another school resource officer to the high school for the remainder of the current school year, Ravally said.

“It’s a rather large school,” he said.

Former Gov. Chris Christie at the end of 2016 signed into law a bill creating “Class III special officers,” whose sole authority would be in providing security for schools. The Class III officers, who will be hired by local police departments, must be retired, under the age of 65, and cannot work more than 20 hours a week. They also do not qualify for pension or health benefits.

The Class III specials’ salaries will be paid by school districts.

Ravally said the hiring of the Class III specials would be a “win” for the township.

“What I like about is that they are veteran police officers,” he said. “People who have already had a full career, all those years of training and experience behind them.”

The Class III specials would have to undergo SRO training, he said.

Ravally said the district was going to have to hire additional school security guards for the new Claremont Road School anyway. He said the hourly rate for the security guards is only about $1 or $2 lower than the Class III special officers, so it made sense to go with the latter.

“If we have one Class III in every school, they’ll complement our security officers very well,” he said.

“In my mind, this is kind of a home run because we can get very well-trained officers who are veterans, who will subject themselves to ongoing training, who can be assigned to a school,” he said. “Rather than security officers, it would be to our advantage, as long as the FTPD is willing to work with us and be able to recruit these Class IIIs and do the things they have to do, it’s a win-win.”

Ravally said the extra SRO officer hired for the high school for the remainder of this school year would “likely” be transferred to one of the middle school campuses in the 2018-19 school year.

FTPD Chief Richard Grammar said the department is working with the school district to supply the additional officers.

At least one other school located in the township is also upgrading its security measures.

The Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School is expecting a proposal to hire three armed security guards to be approved at the school board’s next meeting, said Jeannette Allison, the school’s administrative assistant.

“We have updated our security process by limiting visitor and parent visits through only one entrance/exit,” she said in an email. “We continue to require ID from all visitors.”

At Cedar Hill Preparatory School, founder Nandini Menon said they don’t feel a need to have armed security in the halls.

“I have no plans to have armed security guards and weapons in Cedar Hill Prep School,” she said in an email. “We have cameras all around the property and in classrooms and are in the process of beefing up the doors of the school to handle situations of forced entry.”

St. Matthias School principal Eileen Brett said in an email that “we do not and will not be employing an armed security guard in the school.”

“The school at the present time has a secure waiting area where guests need to be buzzed into the school and later identified as a guest,” she said. “In the front office there are monitors that show 12 different locations and the safety of those areas 24/7. Two drills are held each month. At the end of each drill, the Safety and Security Team evaluate the effectiveness of the drill and formulate any changes that need to be implemented for better coverage and safety.”

The Somerset County Freeholders recently voted to hire another Somerset County Sheriff’s Officer to boost the one in place at the Somerset County Vocational and Technical School in Bridgewater.

County spokeswoman Linda VanZandt said the permanent position would be funded by the Freeholders at between $85,000 to $100,000 a year.

The district is also planning capital projects to boost security, Ravally said.

The board will vote on hiring an architectural firm to design so-called “man traps” at the current Franklin Middle School entrance, and the events entrance at the high school. A “man trap” is a set of doors leading into a school, entry through which can only be gained when one is buzzed through by a security guard.

Sampson G. Smith School currently has such a setup, Ravally said.

The board will also look to hire a risk assessment company to study overall school district security, he said.

 

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