Heightened security an option for O.B. schools

Officials hope to retain security officers, install monitoring system


Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — In light of a series of bomb threats this year, residents will get the option next month to pay for added security in township schools.

A second question on the April 19 ballot will ask voters to approve tightened security at a cost of $709,000. If approved, field security officers would be hired, and a digital security system would be installed and staffed at both Old Bridge High School buildings and at the entryways at the Salk and Sandburg middle schools.

The security measures would result in a 1.1-cent tax rate increase, or an additional $15.63 per year on the average township home, assessed at $144,000.

The funds would have to be raised in addition to a proposed $112.7 million general fund budget to support the 2005-06 school year, which will also be on the April 19 ballot. The general fund budget alone would raise the tax rate by 5.1 cents, meaning the owner of the average property would pay about $73 more in school taxes to support the next school year.

District parents have come to the school board to ask for better security for their children, according to district spokeswoman Lori Luicci. The second question was proposed after those concerns were voiced.

“They wanted security beefed up,” Luicci said.

The additional tax levy would provide for the salaries and benefits of five field security officers and two security staff members to monitor the system.

The field security officers would be retired police retained by the Board of Education, according to Superintendent of Schools Nicole Okun. Their positions would be full time, and they would join the township-provided school resource officers in providing security at the schools.

Okun said she is pleased with the work done by Old Bridge police in the schools, and that those police officers, referred to as school resource officers, will continue in their positions at the schools.

Two additional security officers would be added at both high school buildings and one at Sandburg.

Two screen dispatchers, who would monitor system security screens, and two monitor substitutes would also be part of the $229,000 that would go toward the salaries of various personnel.

The digital security system itself would cost $400,000, with $80,000 needed for monitoring the middle school entry doors.

The system is the same as the one in place at Hunterdon Central High School in Warren County, Okun said. Hunterdon Central is also a high school with separate buildings, like Old Bridge.

Okun said that board members went to visit that school a year ago as part of another project. The board went to Hunterdon again more recently, to check out the security system.

“This year, because of concern for additional security, we did a second visit,” Okun said.

Community members, not only parents, voiced their unease to the board this school year in the wake of the district’s string of bomb threats, she said.

“Everyone is aware that this is needed, based on the climate in our society,” Okun noted.

If the second question is passed, Okun said, the goal is to have the system installed and running by September.

“I’m hopeful that the community will respond to the need for additional security,” she said. “I think that times are changing. We have crafted this based on input from the community.”

Board President Annette Hopman echoed Okun’s sentiment.

“I just hope that people realize that they are the ones that asked for this,” Hopman said, noting that she went through Old Bridge schools when the high school was still Madison Central. “I really hope this passes.”