SPARTA, NJ — The Sparta Board of Education took additional steps in securing the school buildings in advance of the next school year on Monday. With a unanimous vote they passed resolutions to establish armed security guards within the schools.
The new positions were the last step in a process that began at the June 2017 meeting with Policy 7446 allowing for armed guards to be in the schools. That policy, revised in December 2017, established School Resource Officer program, Class Three Special Law Enforcement Officer program and School District Employed Security Officers — Unarmed and Armed.
The 2018-2019 budget included funds to have five security officers. The first three were approved at the July meeting. John Demko, Susan Parkes and Daniel Zill start on September 1 in the schools. According to the resolution approving the three, they will each be paid $30,000 per year.
Parkes was previously the School Resource Officer, before budget cuts eliminated the positions.
The security guards are school district employees and as such, will answer to the school administrators, according to Sparta Police Department Chief Neil Spidaletto. They are different from the School Resource Officer or SRO position.
“School security encompasses so many different areas, including but not limited to infrastructure, personnel, technology, and mental health concerns,” Spidaletto said. “Dr. Rossi and his resources as well as Sparta Police’s resources will continue to try and address all of these areas to allow the students the ability to continue to enjoy a healthy and safe learning environment.”
The SRO Dave Pridham began working in the schools in the spring of 2018. Pridham is an employee of the Sparta Police Department. The school district splits the cost of the officer with the township.
Pridham will be the “head of school security, working with the security guards when the situation calls for it,” Spidaletto said. The security officers, however, will not be taking direction from Pridham, the chief said.
The security guards are being interviewed by a panel that included the superintendent and the chief.
The expectation is that two security guards will remain at the high school, one at Sparta Middle School, one at Helen Morgan and one at Alpine. Mohawk Avenue School will be covered by all of the officers on a rotating basis, Spidaletto said.
"We will rotate them all at first so that each person knows the 'lay of the land' at all five buildings," Superintendent Dr. MIchael Rossi said. "We still need to hire two more and whence that occurs we will contemplate deployment."
In addition to the security guards, Lobby Guard security kiosks are expected to be installed inside the vestibules at the entrance of all schools. Visitors will be required to swipe their identification at the kiosk to gain entry to the building.
The funding for that technology was in the 2017-2018 budget. Additional security enhancements included fencing around the perimeter of the modular classrooms at Alpine School, horns and strobes and upgraded video infrastructure within the schools were also begun in the 2017-2018 school year.
Anyone wishing to get into the school must have an appointment beginning in September according to an announcement made by Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi based on recommendations from a security audit of the district he said.
“Lastly, I would like to say thanks to the relationship our police department has with the Sparta School District we have been able to get quite a bit accomplished in regards to school security in just the last year,” Spidaletto said.
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