ALPINE SCHOOL BOARD MULLS OVER SCHOOL SECURITY; AUDIENCE IS MORE INTERESTED IN MONEY

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By Jake Christie

March 4, 2013 (Alpine)--The Alpine Union School District Trustees Board discussed security measures at its latest meeting, in light of recent out-of-state school shootings. But the audience (including many teachers) was far more interested in the economic viability of the district than any security program.

Superintendent Tom Pellegrino began with a rundown of what the Alpine district was planning to do with security.

“It’s no surprise that school safety is on everybody’s radar  at this point, and it has always been on the radar of the Alpine Union School District ‘leadership team’,” said Pellegrino. “It’s something that school staff drill on a monthly basis, and it’s something they talk about and deal with on a daily basis…..I know that Alpine schools have never been safer than they are right now.”

The Superintendent emphasized that he supports “a respectful environment where everybody is listened to” but the nitty-gritty of the security plan was fences, wireless surveillance cameras (some hidden), cutting down the number of entrances and exits (he called it “funneling”), and requiring everybody on campus to wear ID cards on lanyards around their necks, with visitors wearing special passes (though he assured that the odds of an incident are around one in 3 million.)

Pellagrino came up with figures for everything. According to him, on average about 9,000 students die outside of school from a variety of causes, as opposed to the 17 a year who die at on the way to/from school. The new fences on the six school campuses will possibly cost $90,000 for the entire district (a non-bid guesstimate).  The ID cards can be done in-house (no cost given), and tinting windows closest to the street so that outsiders could not easily look in would be around $15,000 (though Rob Turner, district business manager said tinting “film” could be knocked down in price.) No price was given for the cameras. Installation of the fencing would begin over the spring break.

After Superintendent Pellegrino made his presentation, Lieutenant Juan Sanchez of the San Diego Sherriff’s Department spoke. According to him, there are no armed guards at the 280 schools in the San Diego School District and response times are down to less than 10 minutes for police or sheriff’s officers; if there was an incident in the San Diego schools the students are being trained to hide directly under the windows so they are not seen. Lt. Sanchez pointed out that some schools in the San Diego district don’t have a dedicated school policeman, while others do; it is a case of supply and demand, and when troubled schools would sort out their problems, the need for an armed officer on campus would end.

“We don’t want to make school a jail,” said Lt. Sanchez.

During both of these presentations, there was dead silence from the audience of 60, except for one parent who muttered “yes” to the question of armed guards in the schools.

After the presentations, Chris Lorry was allowed to make a statement.

“I’m here tonight to represent myself and my wife Shannon, who is a PTA member and psych counselor. Though we are not opposed to improving security at AUSD campuses, we’re not comfortable with the proposition of armed officers at the schools,” he said.

Lorry added that he spent countless hours looking at the AUSD budget last year.  “Though I don’t know the projected 2013-14 deficit because of the Prop 30 effects,” he noted, “we are looking at a $1.5 million deficit. We’re not sure how this Board can add officers without cutting teachers; this is a tradeoff my wife and I don’t want to make….even with these officers on site, there is no guarantee that a tragedy will be averted. We can’t plan for every contingency, but the one thing we can guarantee is that if you spend half a million dollars on on-site officers, the teaching will be negatively impacted. We just can’t keep going down that road anymore.”

At no time did Lou Russo, a member of the Alpine Planning Group and parent who brought up the issue of armed guards on AUSD campuses, speak on the issue.

The next speaker, Rich Fordham, marked a change in the meeting from security to financing issues.

“I’d like to discuss my wife, who was a teacher here for 25 years,” he said. “She worked here full time for three years, then developed a brain tumor, she successfully got through that, came back, then shared a contract with Melanie McGillicudy for the next 22 years on a 50 percent/ 100 percent insurance contract. No other contract like that has been issued in the last twelve years…..She was a consummate professional, teaching kids, 800 plus, she made a difference to thousands of kids. She has no enemies, never has,” he noted. “The sad thing is she retired last year and due to interpretation by the Superintendent, no insurance benefits were given….he says it would be a problem to issue [insurance] to her because it would set precedents.”

Fordham finished by saying an offer was given for 60 percent of the total which he considered “a slap in the face.”  He said that another teacher got full benefits for less time than his wife received, then he asked the board if it was worth going to arbitration over the matter. His speech earned a round of applause from the teachers in the audience and no comment from the trustees.

The last people to speak to the board were un-named representatives of the Alpine Teachers Association and California School Employees Association (Chapter 607.)

According to the ATA representative, the budget concerns of the District were due to “declining enrollment” and that the groups were glad that the District was making (un-elaborated upon) changes to “handle that.” Another representative was less cordial.

According to the second representative (who did not give a name or organization), “19 out of 44 districts in San Diego County” have not taken a single furlough day; the average in San Diego has been five since 2009. Alpine, according to the second representative, has taken 25. Four other (un-named) school districts have greater declining enrollment, none have taken as many furlough days as Alpine (the other four took 1.5, 6, 4, and 0 days separately.) Alpine is 43 out of 44 schools in salary rankings; according to the representative, who also said the Alpine district has taken more salary cuts than 42 schools in San Diego County. Allegedly $750,000 was “saved” in furlough days and “pink slips” for students.

She finished by saying that the district was” balancing its budget on the backs of its teachers.” She was applauded by the audience.

Board of Trustees member Dr. Tim Caruthers was not present, and his absence was not explained.