JACKSON – Board of Education members are preparing to educate the public on a special ballot question that will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot to provide six additional security guards in schools.
Township voters will be asked to vote on a special question on the Nov. 6 ballot that will be discussed during an Oct. 16 Board of Education meeting to be held at the Jackson Memorial High School Fine Arts Center at 6:30 p.m. 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.
“Given the number of schools we have and the number of students and staff for whom we are responsible, we need to do more, said Superintendent of Schools Stephen Genco in a recent press release. “We need these additional officers to give us better coverage of all of our buildings.”
During a Sept. 25 school board meeting Genco said that “we continue to work with the Jackson Police Department.” He added that security upgrades have also included looking at cameras, locks and other security measures. The six security guards that would be hired, were the measure to be approved, would be carrying concealed weapons.
“We are doing everything we can. We are working within a 2 percent budget cap,” Genco said. He added that the cost of these new positions, including benefits, is $411,611. Because school districts in New Jersey must operate within a 2 percent cap on the tax levy, this kind of expense cannot be accomplished within that cap, which is why township voters are being asked to make a decision on these positions through a special question on the ballot.
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. Staff and students are trained and drilled on crisis response each year and the district enjoys a healthy and cooperative relationship with the Jackson Police Department, who patrol school areas on a frequent basis, according to the release.
“As good as our security measures are, it’s not enough,’’ Genco said. “We want to provide another key layer of security to make our schools as safe as we can for our students and staff.’’
If approved, the six security guards to be added to the district’s security team of 13 full-time and one part-time guard.
According to the school district, a home assessed at the township average of $327,046, it would increase the 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 in the release. “Do I wish we didn’t have to think about the terrible things that could happen in our schools? Yes. But the reality of the world we live in is that we must think every day about what more we can do to provide safe schools for our children.’’
Approval of this special question 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 said the police department works closely with the district and shares the same goal of safe and secure schools.
“As prepared as we are, we need to always think about progressive, forward-thinking solutions to school security, Kunz said. “I believe these new positions are an excellent way to help us prevent and respond to a crisis.”
Chief Kunz said in the district’s release 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 in the release.
Board members said that those who have questions about the ballot question should visit the Jackson School District website and attend the special public forum at the Oct. 16 Board of Education meeting to discuss this question. The meeting or contact the district via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the communications office at 732-833-4618.
The board is also organizing small-group informational meetings the dates and times of which will be posted on the district website as they are scheduled.