JACKSON – Board of Education members held a special forum to discuss a question being put on the Nov. 6 ballot – whether the district should hire six more security guards to provide additional protection the district’s schools.
The forum was held at the Jackson Memorial High School Fine Arts Center and drew around 30 residents. Only three people came to the podium to ask questions or make a statement about the ballot question. If approved, the district would then have a total of 19 security staff. The district currently has two police resource officers, the cost of which is shared between the school district and township.
School Superintendent Stephen Genco said previously that due to the number of schools the district has “the number of students and staff for whom we are responsible, we need to do more. We need these additional officers to give us better coverage of all of our buildings.”
The district has been working with the Jackson Police Department and has added security upgrades. Genco noted during the forum that district is working within a 2 percent budget cap and that the new school security staff positions, which include health benefits, amounts to $411,611. Because school districts in the state must operate within a 2 percent cap on the tax levy, this kind of expense cannot be accomplished within that cap, which is why Jackson voters are being asked to make a decision on the hiring through a special ballot question.
The district currently utilizes security cameras, a locked door buzzer system, school resource officers, armed and unarmed security guards and is in the final phase of installing security vestibules in all buildings.
“As good as our security measures are, it’s not enough,’’ Genco said during the forum. “We want to provide another layer of security to make our schools as safe as we can for our students and staff. This is a work in progress.”
If approved, some of the six security guards to be added would be carrying concealed weapons. “We don’t want this known to the district as to who is carrying and who is not,” Genco said.
According to the school district, a home assessed at the township average of $327,046, would see an increase their school tax by about $10 per year. If approved, this question would increase the school tax rate by $0.0031 – which is less than one-third of one penny on the tax rate.
“We believe these positions are necessary, but at the end of the day on Nov. 6 it will be up to the voters of Jackson to decide,’’ Genco said previously.
Board members noted that if the ballot question is approved it would result in a permanent increase to the district’s tax levy. This means that voters will not be asked to approve it each year – it will be part of the budget moving forward and the funds approved must be used to fund these positions only.
Police Chief Matthew Kunz previously stated that the township’s police department works closely with the district and shares the same goal of safe and secure schools.
Kunz said that the police department trains its officers on critical incident response and offers the same advanced crisis response training to all district security team members. “No matter how swift a police department response to a critical incident may be, on-site personnel such as the district security staff will always be the first line of defense, and we support making them the most prepared and best trained they can be,” Kunz said last month.
One resident recommended that the district host a special night to introduce the officers to parents and staff. Another resident questioned the need for the new officers to be hired on a full time basis to which Genco replied was necessary to do to have the officers familiar with the buildings and habits of the schools’ operation.
Genco also answered a question regarding whether those hired would only be from Jackson. “We have two state police officers and we’d have them not only from Jackson.”
The superintendent also stressed that only this question, of the security staff hiring, is a Jackson School District question. “I don’t want people to be confused by the second question that voters will see on the ballot.”
The other question is a state question that will appear on the ballot on Nov. 6 and which will ask voters whether to approve $500 million in new debt for school security, county colleges, vocational schools and water infrastructure.
The constitution requires that new debts obtain voter approval. That means $350 million would be used to fund grants to county vocational school districts and school security projects. If approved, $50 million would go to county college projects and $100 million would go to support water infrastructure projects across New Jersey’s more than 600 school districts.
Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Legislature approved the bipartisan measure to get the question on the ballot, but not without considerable debate over the amount the bonds should be.
Board members said that those who have questions about the ballot question should visit the Jackson School District website and visit the Jackson Day booth. Residents can also e-mail the district via e-mail at email@example.com or call the communications office at 732-833-4618.
Board members who are not board candidates will also man a table at Jackson Day on Oct. 27 to explain the purpose of the ballot question and details of its funding.
Board members running for re-election this year include Board President Scott Sergent, Vice Board President Vicki Grasso, and Board member John Barnetsky. Former Board member Gus Acevedo is also running. Three seats are up for grabs with three-year-terms.