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Edison school board discusses director of school safety and security, Class III officers

EDISON — While the Edison Police Department and the Edison Township Public Schools Board of Education hash out contract details to bring in Class III special law enforcement officers (SLEO) to provide security in and around schools, the board is seeking to hire a director of school safety and security in the meantime.

The director would lead and oversee the safety and security of the 16,600 students in 20 buildings and a staff of 2,100 for the 2018-19 school year, according to the job description.

“It’s a long road we have been down,” board member Richard M. Brescher said during the Oct. 15 board meeting, adding he is not happy with the progress on the proposed contract for the Class III officers.

“At this point we have recommended we are going to hire a safety director … someone who comes from a security background so we know our students and staff are safe in the schools,” he said.

Brescher said the police department came to the board with a Class III SLEO contract, however, he said there were many issues with the contract.

“There were two big issues. … One of the big issues was [the contract] wanted us to indemnify [compensate the officers] and hold them harmless [against legal responsibility],” he said. “Our insurance company would not allow us to indemnify a vendor, which is what the township would be.”

Brescher said both parties went back to the drawing board and worked on the language in the contract.

“[When the contract came back] it looked like it would be good for everybody until we sent it to our carrier, who told us [the language in the contract] was still unacceptable,” he said.

Brescher said another big issue is the duty description of the Class III officers, i.e., whether or not they are going to sit at the front of a school, walk around the building and/or spend time in the classrooms.

“We have talked about active shooter drills and all other requirements needed and we haven’t been able to get those answers from the township,” he said.

Brescher said the vision is to have the Class III officers get to know the staff and students, however, because of recent alleged “no show” jobs with the Edison Police Department, and strict policies on overtime in the department, Brescher said the board no longer has that option.

“We can’t have the same officer,” he said. “To me, the gun wasn’t the benefit, it was the officer’s interaction with the staff and students on a daily basis. That is what it really was about.”

Brescher said the board’s estimated negotiated cost of the security contract is $90,000, which includes a $32 per hour salary rate for the officers. He said the township’s proposed bill is $120,000 for the contract.

“I have asked the township and the board attorney on numerous occasions for a list of what is going into [the $120,000 cost],” he said.

Brescher said he does not know if the answer to school safety and security is having an officer with a gun in every school.

“It is debatable,” he said. “We have members who feel strongly both ways.”

Brescher said the township’s responsibility is to protect its residents and the board’s responsibility is to educate.

“We don’t get the opportunity to do that (educate), because we are also forced to protect the students. … Somehow we have become like the Edison Board of Education Police Department,” he said.

Brescher said if an agreement cannot be made, the board may have to hire outside vendors for school security.

“We would rather have our own officers who work here,” he said.

During the 2017-18 school year, the board entered a shared service agreement with the township to hire off-duty armed Edison police officers to patrol the schools, grounds and facilities. The agreement, which was in place from Feb. 26 through June 20, was the outcome of hours of discussion and the impact of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, during which a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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