Cumberland Times-News

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May 15, 2013

Sheriff to study school security in Newtown

Board of Education in process of developing enhanced safety plan

CUMBERLAND — Sheriff Craig Robertson will soon travel to Newtown, Conn., site of the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as part of a study on school security.

The visit, which is part of the Allegany County Board of Education’s effort to create an enhanced school security plan, was disclosed during a meeting Tuesday by Robert Farrell, the coordinator of security, safety and risk management for the board.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Mike Llewellyn, board of education member. “He’s (Sheriff Robertson) going to try to learn from the tragedy. I know the sheriff cares a lot about school security.”

Robertson is expected to travel to Connecticut in early June and meet with the police chief of Newtown, according to Farrell.

In light of the events at Sandy Hook, where 20 children and six adults were killed, educators and county officials decided to form a committee to study local school security issues.

Farrell said that he is serving on the committee along with Robert Dick, the chief of county public safety, Vic Rushline, a retired FBI agent and former criminal justice professor at Allegany College of Maryland, John Morley, coordinator of security at ACM, Dan Thompson, principal of Calvary Christian Academy, Robertson and Lt. Randy Cutter of the sheriff’s office.

“The committee has met now four times,” said Farrell.

Farrell said meetings have been held at Mount Savage School, Georges Creek Elementary School, the board office and Fort Hill High School. Further meetings are being scheduled.

“I think out of this will come a recommendation from the committee,” said Farrell.

Farrell said he also gave the schools a copy of the emergency plan and other security protocols already in place.

“It’s been very enlightening to hear of some of the things that are going on at the schools and at the homes of some students,” said Farrell.

The end result for the study by the committee will hopefully be an enhanced school security plan for Allegany County.

However, funding for such a plan is still a murky issue. This all hits during a time when both the BOE and county are hammering out their 2014 budgets.

In March, the BOE requested $480,000 for an enhanced security plan that would add five off-duty armed state troopers, or school resource officers, to cover the outlying schools, and employ two mental health professional to help in evaluating high risk cases.

Given the restricting budget conditions faced by all levels of government, the county has been less than receptive to paying the cost.

In fact, the county did not file the required paperwork to arrange for securing the $480,000 requested and has set aside only $190,000 in its current draft budget for any potential school security plan, according to education officials.

Citing the difficult economy, the county has reduced funding in education in recent years. In fact, the current fiscal year 2014 budget only funds the BOE at the state required minimum of $29.8 million.

 The state had made grant money available for physical improvements to schools such as stronger glass, reinforced doors, cameras and secure entrance vestibules. However, the board also wants increased personnel.

With the BOE strongly in favor of enhanced security, it may be forced to pull funding from its general fund to finance at least a portion of the plan.

“It’s unclear what’s going to happen. The county wants to wait to hear from the committee. You can’t stop trying until it’s over,” said Llewellyn.

Cumberland and Frostburg already have school resources officers in place. Llywellyn particularly worries about the outlying schools.

“It’s clear to me that we need something (security related) in the schools, not in Frostburg and Cumberland. I don’t want to wait until something happens,” said Llewellyn.

Attempts to reach Robertson on Wednesday for comment were unsuccessful.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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