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November 17, 2006

Leaks, Lights & Fields

SBC has a chat with Konover

By Sharon Bass

Town and school administrators, reps from Konover Construction and Tai Soo Kim Architects, a couple of parents and the media waited inside 60 Putnam Ave. last night for the much-anticipated School Building Committee meeting to begin, on the leaks and other flaws at the new $54M middle school.

Unfortunately, not enough committee members showed. Only five of the 13. So there was no quorum and no official meeting. Instead of entirely chucking the session, Chair Curt Leng allowed an informal conference -- no decisions, no votes, just talk.

He and others on the SBC rigorously questioned Konover project executive Richard Culkin about the middle school’s leaks, flooded athletic fields and interior lights that never go off.

Leng rattled off some specifics: two 10-foot-by-2-foot puddles of water on the floor in the atrium after it rained; the floor along windowed walls wet after rain; a leak in the mechanical room; water-stained ceiling tiles in the cafeteria, classrooms, gym, media center conference room, second-floor hallway; etc.

“As you can see, we have a host of issues,” he said. “I hope most have been addressed.” From late October through Nov. 8, Leng and others sent e-mails to Konover as each problem was discovered. “The response I was given is, ‘There are no problems,’” Leng said. However, Culkin acknowledged flaws when he later said, “Anything that was wet was replaced.”

The chair was also peeved that the construction company did not submit a written report, which he requested, about the leaks and such. “We have no report,” said Leng.

Konover Fires Back

“My response was written,” Culkin said of an e-mail he sent to committee members. Leng said an e-mail is not a written report.

“Why weren’t you able to produce a written report?” he asked.

“You asked about roof leaks and there aren’t any,” Culkin said.

Leng told Culkin he was using semantics; he asked about water leaks, regardless of their origin.

“What do you want in the report,” said Culkin.

“Every spot that had water and how it was fixed,” Leng responded.

Discussion turned to the gutters over the cafeteria. They were filled with leaves and other tree debris and could not contain all the water from the recent rains. Middle School Principal Frank Pepe said the leaking has stopped since the gutters were cleaned out.

“Are these gutters going to have this problem” with every rain, asked SBC member Al Gorman. He was told yes unless they’re cleaned out. Gorman said that should be put on the maintenance schedule.

Culkin said three leaks were found in the main atrium and remedied with wet seal, which holds up better than the rubber sealing it replaced. He said some of the ceiling tiles were stained by condensation from the HVAC system. That, too, he said has been fixed.

“There’s no water damage from roof leaks?” asked Leng.

“No,” said Culkin.

Time to Turn Off the Lights

Shocked by the new school’s $43,000 electric bill for its first month, as reported last week in the New Haven Register, Gorman asked how the lights could be shut off. The emergency lights, which are in every classroom, hallway and staircase, are on 24/7. Turns out, a $25,000 relay box (of which the town is only responsible for one-third, with the state picking up the rest of the tab) would do the trick.

That got Gorman and Leng going. Why was the SBC not informed of that? In far less than one month, that device would have paid for itself.

“We did not get that option,” said Gorman. He pointed out that the new North Haven High, which Konover completed in 2005, had the same emergency light problem and astronomical electric bill. It was baffling how the same company neglected to inform Hamden.

“I don’t understand why that option was not brought up in committee,” said Leng.

“Why was this never brought before us?” said Superintendent Alida Begina. “We were never told.”

Culkin disagreed. He said relay boxes were “mentioned in a narrative” he gave at a SBC meeting. But, he said, they were never included in the design.

“If you could show us one [time] where you presented that [that device] would save money and we turned it down, my hat’s off to you,” said Leng. He then asked why it wasn’t in the design plan.

“I don’t know,” said Ryszard Szczpek of Tai Soo Kim.

Culkin jumped in. “I could say the same thing. When the town saw the drawings why didn’t they pick it up?” he said.

“That doesn’t make sense for the town,” said Leng. “That doesn’t make sense on any level.”

Culkin argued the relays weren’t included because of “budgetary restraints. It was batted around but not approved.”

“But this saves money in the first month,” Leng insisted.

Szczpek came in from Switzerland. “It clearly can’t continue the way it is,” the architect said. “It has to be changed. It should have been presented early in the design stages. Yes, it should have been presented to this committee. Yes.” It’s unclear who will pay for the relay switches and the water-damage repairs -- the town or Konover.

Another problem is noisy hood fans in the science rooms. Begina said teachers are having trouble teaching.

“We can’t have a noise impact on the educational system,” said Gorman. “If we know the solution, are you going to fix it?”

Szczpek said he would look into it. “A school building has never been built like this,” he said. “It’s impossible to predict every nuance.”

And there are the flooded athletic fields. “There are ponds I could swim in,” said Leng. “There are 50 geese” out there. He asked if the pools of water are the result of a design flaw. Culkin said he didn’t know and would have it inspected.

Despite the leaks, the lights and the fields, SBC resident elector Chris Daur said it’s really business as usual. “It’s very typical,” he said after the meeting. “We’re having a hard time in the end because we were trying to stay within the $54 million budget.”

The school got a temporary certificate of occupancy in August, when Konover turned the building over to the BOE. Daur said it’s not unusual to wait even years to get a permanent certificate.

During the meeting, Culkin said many of the water-stained tiles had not been replaced because they are now dry.

“I never heard of someone leaving up a wet, stained ceiling tile for two months,” said Leng, who intends to ask the Quinnipiack Valley Health District to inspect the insulation around the tiles for mold.

He’s also waiting for that final report from Konover.

November 16, 2006

No One Plays for Nothing

BOE says no to private school's request for freebie

By Sharon Bass

St. Stephen’s Wildcats practice basketball in their school hallways with portable hoops. In 2004, the boys varsity team from the Ridge Road school won the state championship. “It gave me that hope that we could really do it,” said athletic director Ann Dombrowski. “If we ever had a place to practice we could be as good as any team.”

So she appeared before the Board of Education Tuesday night to ask to use the Ridge Hill gym on Friday evenings through the end of February -- for free. That would mean waiving the $150/day rental fee and the $60 custodial tab.

But the best deal the Board was willing to offer Dombrowski was to only charge the 60 bucks and slash the rental fee, which was stated as $75 at the meeting. (According to the district’s fee schedule, it’s actually double that amount.)

Dombrowski said her school still could not afford it. And the Board said it’s that or nothing.

‘We have nowhere else to go,” she said. “We have a commitment to the community. I think it would be a goodwill gesture to the Hamden church and school. We live in Hamden. We pay Hamden taxes.”

“I guess I have a little trouble waiving fees for private school kids who are paying tuition,” said BOE Chair Michael D’Agostino. He asked how many St. Stephen students live in Hamden.

About 85 percent, said Dombrowski. “If I have to pay the 60 I have to tell you where it’s coming from -- myself and the other coaches,” she said. “I would not be here if we could afford it. It’s the God’s honest truth. I have kids who need shoes.”

“It’s really not our concern how they pay,” said member John Keegan.

“I agree with John,” said Board member and finance chair Ed Sullivan. “At least cover our expenses.”

Also, Superintendent Alida Begina pointed out that the time Dombrowski requested -- 5 p.m.-8 p.m. -- would require overtime pay for the custodians. So the hours were adjusted to 4:30 p.m.-6:45 p.m. And the Board approved the amended item, charging just the $60.

“I’m really mad,” Dombrowski said afterwards. “Every time I go [to the BOE] I am told the same thing … You know what got me angry? They think we’re wealthy like Hamden Hall. We’re not a wealthy school. Not by a long shot.”

However, she said she’ll find the money and the Wildcats will begin practicing in the Ridge Road gym this Friday.

Tuition averages about $3,350 at St. Stephen, which has 215 students in Pre-K-8. “I swear, that school never has a surplus. Students pay $50 for basketball and varying amounts for all middle-school sports. How much can you squeeze out of these parents?” Dombrowski said.

When she returned home Tuesday night, she said she e-mailed the news to some St. Stephen parents. She forwarded the HDN a couple of responses.

Hey Ann, I gotta tell you, I am highly offended by this remark. I think it was Mike D'Agostino who said this? He does not know us, or our circumstances. How dare he make a statement like that? How dare he assume that any parent who has enrolled their child at Saint Stephens must be able to afford any additional cost to pay for gym time. How dare he make a statement like that in a public forum! It is prejudicial and ignorant. How is it that someone in his position be allowed to be so insulting? All I can say is God Bless you for your patience and dedication. And thank you for all that you do for our kids!” – Parent I

“I think this is a wonderful idea and appreciate you going the distance for the kids of Saint Stephen's. I am disgusted that this decision originally was based on the Board of Education's attitude toward our choice to send our children to a private school. How ignorant that the term ‘private school’ conjures up images of privilege and wealth. These are supposedly educated board members? I find that surprising. I am a resident of Hamden and my children do not benefit from the high taxes I pay to the city for public school education and programs. Yes, it is my choice to send my children to private school, but I feel if another child benefits from my tax money then it is only fair that my child should benefit from using the town gym free of cost … Please let me know whom I can write about this issue at the Board of Education. I think their position is weak and inappropriate. Perhaps the Board of Education could benefit from a report showing the average annual income of a St. Stephen's family. That may dispel their attitudes somewhat.” – Parent II

Sullivan said yesterday that he believes all sports organizations, in and out of town, pay to play in the Hamden school buildings. “To my knowledge, no one uses the schools for free, except for the PTAs. Sometimes the rental fees are waived. Why do we have rental fees if we’re not going to use them?” he said.

November 15, 2006

FROM: Councilman Curt Leng
Finance Committee, Chairman
School Building Committee, Chairman
DATE: November 14, 2006
RE: New Hamden Middle School Issues

CC: Mayor Henrici
Scott Jackson, CAO
School Building Committee Members
Turner Construction
Tai Soo Kim

It has come to my attention that there are several areas of the New Hamden Middle School roof that are leaking.

You can understand my shock in hearing of this problem, which despite some apparent attempts to correct, has still not been fully rectified. This is an absolute disgrace considering that we have had children in this brand new $54 M facility for a full 2-months into our school year.

In an e-mail last week, I asked Konover Construction to present the School Building Committee with a detailed report as to why the roof is leaking and what is being done to ameliorate the situation. To-date I have received no such report and no such e-mail. I decided today to put my formal request in writing via this memo to accentuate the urgency of the matter.

If a full report – including a detailed list of what steps have been taken to-date, as well as plans for fully addressing this issue - are not in the hands of School Building Committee members by Thursday, I will be hesitant to let ANY additional Konover items be addressed at the SBC meeting.

In addition, there have been reports from staff, SBC members and residents about ponding and problematic water conditions in the athletic fields of the New School. I would like to add this matter to items that need to be addressed at the next meeting and will expect an informational report.

If Konover has already addressed the situation(s), then a report will suffice. If the issues are not addressed, I would like a representative from M & M on-hand to discuss the matter in more detail.

By copy of this memo, I ask anyone with photographs of the conditions mentioned – both inside and out - to please bring them to the meeting Thursday for review. I know there are several that have been shared.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call or e-mail
at councilmancurtlleng@sbcglobal.net.

More on Expunging Expulsions

The BOE discusses

By Sharon Bass

It was Round II Tuesday evening for the Board of Education on whether to wipe clean some students’ expulsions. Like last time around, there was a clear division of opinion: some members felt it was too lenient while others think it’s the fair thing to do.

Member Mike Dolan is spearheading the policy change, which was given a first reading at the meeting. A New Haven defense attorney, he contends that certain kids who have been expelled should get another chance. After all, adult criminals sometimes get their records expunged. Why not children?

Reportedly, no school district in the state removes expulsions from student records. Hamden would be the first.

Dolan's proposal to amend the student discipline policy says, “5a. A student may petition the Board of Education in writing to expunge the disciplinary record for any incident if it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the student did not engage in the alleged conduct …”

Based on comments made during the last BOE meeting, Dolan added the bolded phrase: “In addition to 5a, a student in good standing at least seventeen credits earned toward high school graduation who has one expulsion during their k-12 education history and the conduct for which did not did not [sic] involve a firearm, deadly weapon, or the distribution of illegal narcotics or controlled substance, may petition the Board of Education in writing to expunge the expulsion from their record.”

Member Lynn Campo asked to have the credit minimum upped to 18 because students would be closer to graduating.

Those expelled for state-mandated reasons, such as carrying a deadly weapon or selling drugs, are automatically disqualified from Dolan’s policy.

“We’d probably have more problems than we do now” with that policy, said member John Keegan. “We’re writing so many exceptions into here, there probably aren’t many applicable cases.”

“What about students accepted to college and don’t care [if they're expelled]?” said Campo.

Member Austin Cesare said this year the standardized college application started asking about expulsions.

“This just says we’d hear [the student’s case] again,” he said of Dolan’s amendment. “It’s not automatic expungement. As I said at the last meeting, I think it’s a good opportunity for a kid who’s made a bad mistake to give them a chance to work their way out of it.”

Campo wanted to know if a child who was expelled because a box cutter fell out his pocket be eligible for expungement? “Or the girl carrying pot for her boyfriend?” she said.

 “Having something fall out of your pocket is different than wielding a box cutter at someone,” said Assistant Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez.

“It’s innovative policy,” said Chair Michael D’Agostino. “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.”

Only Keegan voted against the measure. A second reading and possibly a final vote at the next BOE meeting, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m., 60 Putnam Ave.

‘Austin – Give Me Candy or Give Me Death’

Board member John Keegan and school Superintendent Alida Begina hold up their charges’ petitions. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

The kids at Dunbar Hill are not too sweet on the new state law that forbids schools to sell soda and candy and cookies and such.

They want their candy back. However, instead of crying over the loss, they exercised their right as American citizens to protest. Twenty-four sugar-deprived Dunbar students signed three petitions and sent them to the Board of Education. They pledged to keep fighting for their right to munch junk for as long as it takes.

There’s not much the Board can do, but at last night’s meeting members talked about making some kind of recognition to the children for a job well done. They don't get the candy. But well done anyway.

Besides their names, kids wrote protest messages on the large, colorful petitions. Like these, reprinted verbatim:

“We deserve sweets.”

“We already have wheat bread. Why can’t we have ice cream? Our bake sales are for charity. Why can’t we have them. We get rewarded with candy. Rewards shouldn’t be pencils. Most of our candy sales are for field trips. If you take that away school has nothing to look forward to.”

One child scribbled a rather dramatic message for Board member Austin Cesare. “Austin – give me candy or give me death.”

“I want Ice-cream, etc. Why be healthy at school if we have to be healthy at home??!!!”

“I wont some candy right now. Why did you take it away?”

“We go to school five days a week for 8 hours and we need something to look forward to like a party or candy for a treat for our hard work and for our hard work you repay us by taking away our candy and white bread. That is not right!!!”

“Why can’t we have Ice-cream or candy or cupcakes if you don’t let us get it back we will still fight!” a student warned. “We will not stop until you give it back!!!”

24 Really Cool Kids

By Sharon Bass

Two-dozen town children were named top students last night inside a very packed 60 Putnam Ave. gym. They were flanked by proud moms, pops, sisters, bros and grandparents as well as teachers and principals. It was the 22nd Annual CAPSS (Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents) awards.

The students were chosen for their community service, academic prowess and leadership service, said Superintendent Alida Begina, who ran the show. One by one, the children walked to the front of the gymnasium to get their certificate and tell the audience why they thought they were chosen. Nearly every one mentioned good teachers.

Here’s what they said.

Michael Glazer, Bear Path, “Mostly because of last year. My teachers were really supportive of the charity stuff.”

Emily Jones, Bear Path, “’Cause last year I really had a supportive teacher.”

Anthony Lancaster, Church Street, “Because I’ve been doing well in my work. I’ve been very respectful and I have great teachers.”

Paula Muñoz, Church Street, “’Cause I always try my best and I never gave up.”

Hailey Wills, Dunbar Hill, “I’ve had great teachers.”

Catherine Pelley, Helen Street, “I do a lot of community service and I do my best.”

Denisse Noelle Perez, Ridge Hill, “Because I apply what I learn every day.”

Caitlin DeStefano-Ray, Shepherd Glen, “Because I do good in school and I try to be nice to everyone.”

Kathleen Fedorchak, Spring Glen, “Well, I’ve had really supportive teachers and really like helping out in the community.”

John Cifarelli, West Woods, “I try my hardest and I do a lot of community service.”

Amber Stevenson, West Woods, “I’m a respectful student and a role model to all my classmates.”

Nicole Evans, Hamden Middle, “I’ve participated in peer orientation and HUGS (elementary school volunteers) for little kids.”

Jena Rosa, Hamden Middle, “My good grades and community service.”

Robert Rodriguez, Hamden Middle, “I have good grades and I’m a good role model to others.”

Jennifer Morgan, Hamden Middle, “I’ve had great teachers all along and I try my best in everything.”

Leslie Rivera, Hamden High, “For my leadership as president of the Black & Hispanic Student Union.”

Ashley Okereke, Hamden High, “I help a lot in school.”

Pauling Huynh, Hamden High, “I’ve had the opportunity to work in the school office and I’m always up for tasks to be done.”

Matthew Spector, Hamden High, “National Honor Society. I run track and coach Special Olympics.”

Hannah Chang, Hamden High, “I’m actively involved in the clubs in my school, like human relations and the Asian club.”

Divya Krishna, Hamden High, “I’m active in all my clubs in my school and vice president of my class and I get good grades.”

Khalid Lum, Hamden High, “Because I’m captain of the high school debate team and we won the state championship last year.”

Peter Florio, Steps & Reach Program, “Because I do well in school.”

Amesha Agarwah, Hamden High, was unable to attend the ceremony.

November 13, 2006


The new typhoon slide at Ridge Hill School. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

The discovery of the $6,111 50-inch plasma TV the school administration purchased June 29 -- two days before the end of the fiscal year when all unspent money has to be returned to the town -- led the HDN to look for other 11th-hour purchases made in June.

“The Board of Education is not allowed to have a contingency [savings] account,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella, chair of the Education Committee “They go on a buying frenzy in June since June 30 is the last day of the fiscal year, when it’s spend it or lose it.”

One item purchased in the frenzy is a $7,999 “typhoon slide” for Ridge Hill School, ordered on June 21, to replace the one that was vandalized and burned over last year’s Thanksgiving break. The new slide was purchased from Creative Recreation in West Hartford.

On Oct. 2, the HDN sent a Freedom of Information request to school Finance Director Tom Pesce who turned it over to Assistant Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez. The request asked for all documents related to all purchases made in June 2006. Seemed simple enough.

But, unfortunately, it wasn’t.

At an unrelated public meeting three weeks after the FOI was issued, Hernandez told the HDN the materials were ready and to call to make a time to look at them. Four unreturned phone messages later, on Nov. 6 Pesce telephoned the HDN saying Hernandez asked him to call to set up a meeting on Nov. 9 with Hernandez and Pesce, in order to be able to view the purchase documents. Asked why a meeting was necessary, Pesce said that was Hernandez’s request and he didn’t know why. The HDN was told to come in at 3 p.m. last Thursday.

The HDN showed up at 2:45 p.m. Pesce was nowhere to be found, never showed up and there was no meeting. In fact, Hernandez, who was in and out of his office, said he had no time to answer even one question from the HDN and referred questions to his secretaries, who were unable to answer them. Two stacks of documents in response to the FOI sat on a table outside of Hernandez’s office. There were about 1,000 purchase orders in one pile and the other was about half the size. One hour later, when both of Hernandez’s secretaries left for the day, the HDN was told to leave, and could come back Monday.

However, much of the information requested in the Oct. 2 FOI was not provided last Thursday, such as bid-award contracts on applicable items, which spell out what the purchase is for. Some purchase orders are very vague. For instance, according to the June 29, 2006, purchase document for the 50-inch TV, it simply states, “computer equipment.” But on the separate bid contract (which the HDN obtained via another FOI in September) it itemizes in detail what “computer equipment” means: “LG 50” Plasma with ASTC tuner, Computer input and built in speakers 50PX2,” etc.

So yesterday the HDN e-mailed Hernandez asking him to provide all documents as previously requested, and to be able to review them starting no later than 1 p.m., since quitting hour is 4 p.m., on Nov. 14.

The Buying Frenzy

“I know a lot of people criticized them for buying a lot of textbooks,” right before the end of the fiscal year, said Pascarella. He figured $200,000 to $300,000 from last year's budget were spent on books. “I’ve heard $500,000, but that seems like a lot.”

Why not buy the books when they’re needed? “Again, that’s not unusual. Beforehand, they were afraid to buy these things because of [possibly] needing the money for the health insurance fund, however the town took that over in this year’s budget,” he said.

Pascarella said he didn’t know the amount of the BOE’s 2005-06 surplus, which has to go back into town coffers.

“They usually return something but I don’t know how much that will be this year,” he said. “It’s my understanding it’s after the audit, usually done by the end of the year or beginning of the next.”

Some June ’06 Purchases (Note: there was not enough time allotted to go through all the purchase orders on Nov. 9.)

June 15: One DNA fingerprint kit for science department, $2,576
June 15: One Nikon FM-10 35 mm SLR camera kit, 20x, $4,274
June 15: Three two-drawer file cabinets for Hernandez: $990
June 15: One Science Thinkpad R52, $1,186
June 21: One typhoon slide, Ridge Hill school, $7,999
June 29: “Computer equipment,” $6,111
June 29: One Dell Ultra Sharp 1907 FP Flat Panel, $2,626
June 29: Unspecified number of Motorola CP200 4-watt UHF two-way radios, $7,056
June 29: Dell PE 2850, 3.6 GHZ, $22,747

Books (this is by far not a complete list)

June 15: World languages textbooks, $16,726
June 15-29: Math textbooks, $154,979
June 15-29: Social studies textbooks, $47,779

June Expulsion Hearings

June 15: $1,400

Other and More Recent Expenditures

June 6: Ciro Tacinelli, Westwoods principal retired June 2006, severance contribution, $29,550
June 21: Vincent Iezzi contribution, Putnam Investors Services, Providence R.I., $38,420
July 10: Encumbrance for interval per Dr. Begina, $4,000
July 11: Putnam Avenue fence, $5,529
Aug. 8: Labor and materials for main office, faculty and rooms, $37,098

Pascarella did some explaining.

He said the Aug. 8 expense may have been for repairs, but he was uncertain and baffled over the amount. “It was for $37,098? I’d like to look into that,” he said.

“Encumbering is like a set-aside,” the at-large councilman said of the July 10 item. “Interval? Boy, I don’t know what that is. It could mean a million different kinds of programs. They are allowed to encumber funds from one budget year to the next for a specific reason. That would certainly be from the budget of the prior year (’05-’06).”

About the June 21 $38,420 “contribution,” he said, “I’m not going to comment on that. I want to check on it.”

And as for Tacinelli’s $39,550 severance, Pascarella said, “It’s really like a bonus for longevity. It shouldn’t be an enormous amount of money.”

Severance pay is included in administrators’ and teachers’ contracts, he said, however unlike administrators teachers can’t cash in for sick or vacation days. Teachers don’t get vacation days since they work 187 days a year, while administrators work year round with four weeks of vacation, said Pascarella.

To be continued.
November 6, 2006

HH Grad Going to Prison for Raping Student

By Sharon Bass

According to the New Britain state’s attorney office, Juan Garcia, a former Hamden High student, pleaded guilty last week to raping a fellow student on the Berlin Turnpike in the summer of 2005. Garcia, who was convicted of an adult felony, will spend one year in prison and four years on probation.

On Oct. 26, the Hamden Daily News broke the story about a federal lawsuit that was filed Oct. 24 against the Hamden Board of Education, which is related to the rape. The complaint alleges that the BOE knew about the rape and the ensuing taunting and harassment of the girl by Garcia and his friends, but did nothing to stop it. The female student, referred to as "Mary Doe" in the suit, is now 16.

Garcia was allowed to return to Hamden High after committing the violent act and graduate. Meanwhile, "Mary Doe" had to undergo expensive treatment and seek protection from her rapist.

The Oct. 24 lawsuit says, “As a direct and proximate result of the acts and the omissions of the defendant [the Hamden BOE] ... Mary Doe has suffered severe emotional distress and Jane Doe [her mother] has been compelled to incur substantial expenses for her treatment and protection.” The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages and attorney fees and costs.

The BOE would not comment, as is customary when a party is being sued.

November 3, 2006

Security Talk

Assistant Super Hernandez addresses the parents. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

Just a handful of parents show for a discussion on student safety

By Betsy Driebeek

School security was the topic of a town-wide PTA Council meeting last night at Hamden Middle School. A notice had gone out to parents of the 7,000 students in the district, but only about 30 came to hear Assistant Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez and director of facilities Mark Albanese talk about the state of safety in the schools.

"Parents want a safe school for their children," Hernandez began. "That can mean a child should not be made fun of or teased, or a child should feel comfortable with their teacher. On the other end of the spectrum, a parent does not want someone coming into the school and doing harm to a teacher or student.

"As educators, we are not security people, but we act on behalf of parents and we take your children from you and are responsible for them,” he continued. “That is a heavy, heavy burden. No one can learn if they do not feel safe and that [point] is embedded in our mission statement.”

Hernandez said the system does not create safe schools in a vacuum

On the Emergency Operations Committee there are four people from central office, two each from the police and fire departments, two representatives from Laidlaw Transit, two from Quinnipiack Valley Health District, educators, principals and a Board of Education member.

"It is important that there be confidence within the community in knowing that we are thinking about, working on and revising and rehearsing our emergency plans. We are always in the planning process as we know to never fall in love with our plan," Hernandez said.

The key people involved during a crisis are the superintendent, principals, teachers, school nurses and ancillary staff like custodians, cafeteria workers and aides.

"Students need to feel empowered to report things they hear and see that are not appropriate and could lead to danger,” said Hernandez. “Parents should encourage students to go to an adult. Reporting is different from tattling or just trying to get someone in trouble,"

There are three components to emergency plans -- communication, accountability and coordination.

Communication inside school buildings is handled with PA systems, intercoms, two-way radios, telephones and just the simple passing of a note. Central office has Nextel phones that directly connect to the police and fire departments, Hernandez said. The central office also monitors radios at the high school and will soon be doing so at the middle school. And six buses have GPS systems.

A list of security measures was presented. Passive measures include video cameras -- some with digital video recorders that store information for later use if necessary -- burglar, fire alarm and electronic-entry systems and sign-in procedures for visitors. "As of yesterday, all schools now have electronic-entry systems," said Albanese.

Active measures include security guards, resource police officers -- two in the high school; one in the middle school -- staff and student reporting and a high school hotline to report incidents after police have been notified.

Albanese said upgrades are planned for the fire alarm systems at Shepherd Glen, West Woods and Ridge Hill schools, and doors equipped with electronic access and swipe cards will be installed. "This will replace the lunch aide having to use a stick to hold a back door open during recess," he said.

Hernandez said students go through practice drills. "Sometimes a door that the children are used to using will be blocked off and they will be told to find another exit," he said. The purpose is to prevent students from falling into a rote pattern of evacuation.

Metal detectors came up. Hernandez said they have only been mentioned in informal conversations, triggered by the fact that neighboring school districts have detectors.

"It's a catch-22,” said Joe Barba of Centerbrook Road. “We could put [metal detectors] in before something happens, but I'd hate to have my son go to a school in a prison or a courtroom."

"Or an airport," someone chimed in.

Bernard Chatman, Dunbar Hill PTA Council rep, said he felt parents had been left out. "Parents need to know where their kids are going after school, who they hang out with and what they are doing," he said.

Hernandez said parents play an important role. "They can interact with their children and send a message to them that school is safe and that they are a part of that by knowing what's right and wrong,” he said. “I want parents to leave knowing that the Hamden public school system is aware and we do take this subject seriously.”

”They put some really good thought into it,” said Mark Loalbo of Beverly Road. "We have no guarantees, but they are trying to minimize the potential for something to happen without making it a prison."

A parent of a Bear Path and high school student who asked to remain anonymous said, "If parents play such an important role in the safe school process, where were the other 99 percent of the parents tonight? How can just we in attendance carry the burden?"


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