WESTPORT – Officials approved funding for three new school security officers after parents and teachers warned of daily “near mishaps” involving students walking to and from school.
Members of the Representative Town Meeting unanimously approved a yearly appropriation of $345,653 on Tuesday to hire three new school security officers at Coleytown Elementary, Coleytown Middle, Kings Highway Elementary, Saugatuck Elementary and Bedford Middle School.
As much as Westport police are concerned about major threats like active shooters, Police Chief Foti Koskinas said, the new officers will largely focus on a growing concern for police, school staff and parents – student pick-up and drop-off.
Koskinas said busy traffic puts Westport students at risk nearly every day.
“From what I understand from parents and teachers and even the bus drivers, it’s happening almost daily – [the] near mishaps,” Koskinas said.
Koskinas said day-to-day safety concerns at the public schools are equally as important as potential tragedies, and it is far more likely that a child could be harmed while crossing the street to and from school – especially in the Coleytown area.
Accidents along North Avenue, where Coleytown Elementary and Coleytown Middle are located, have increased by almost 113 percent in the last couple of years according to UConn’s Connecticut Crash Data Repository – 17 accident from July 2022 until July 2023, compared to eight accidents from July 2021 to July 2022.
Wendy Batteau, an RTM member representing the Coleytown area, said that between North Avenue, Easton Road, Coleytown Road and the nearby entrance and exit to the Merritt Parkway, her district is a “hazard” for students.
“There is traffic that you can’t believe. You can’t believe that people have to drive in those places, and there are times when you can’t drive in those places,” Batteau said. “That presents a hazard.”
Batteau said knowing that a security officer is outside of the schools should be a comfort to the entire Westport community – not just for parents and school staff.
Under the new plan one security officer would be assigned to the two Coleytown schools, one to Kings Highway and Saugatuck and one to Bedford Middle School. In addition to traffic enforcement, Koskinas said the officers will patrol outside the school campuses during the day.
But with the new officers and an existing school resource officer at Staples High, Greens Farms Elementary and Long Lots Elementary would be the only Westport schools without assigned school security or resource officers.
Koskinas said multiple Greens Farm and Long Lots parents have reached out with their concerns, questioning why the schools aren’t getting the same attention.
With an increased police presence in northeast Westport by way of the Staples resource officer and the new officers by Coleytown and Bedford, Koskinas said Green Farms and Long Lots will be well-protected.
“In a way, that’s going to be the most heavily-patrolled part of town when you look at it,” Koskinas said. “It gives us that resource to pull it down closer to Long Lots.”
Koskinas also pointed to unknown plans for Long Lots, which encouraged police to wait on assigning new officers to the school. Currently, the school board is deciding whether to renovate Long Lots or build anew to accommodate a projected increase in enrollment.
“We did not think it was responsible to ask for an additional officer at this time for those schools,” he explained.
Koskinas assured RTM members that the police department takes requests for additional staffing and funding very seriously, and said he has talked to the First Selectwoman and the school board to ensure that all parties were on board.
First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker said she supports the plan. While the new officers are a recurring expense, Tooker said that when someone like Koskinas asks for change, she listens.
“I do not take – neither does he – increasing an ongoing, recurring operational budget increase lightly, which is what this is. This is not obviously a one-off expense,” Tooker said. “And neither of us take increase in headcount lightly.”
Before the RTM unanimous vote, Tooker urged approval.
“I look forward to a positive vote from this body because I think it is the absolute important thing we need to do to protect our kids and to protect our school staff,” she said.