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NORTH BRANFORD - By Jan. 23, job interviews for six armed school security officers were expected to wrap up, allowing the hiring process to begin.
Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker said 55 applications were received for the district's six newly created job openings posted through Jan. 11 on the district website. Interviews began last week. The applicants need to have experience as sworn law enforcement officers with current firearm permits, and ideally recent training in active threat response.
"We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the applicants," said Schoonmaker, adding hiring will happen soon. "We're looking to staff as quickly as possible so we can have time to transition our police team out."
The new positions are a direct response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Since the afternoon of Dec. 14, all North Branford public schools have had a police officer present during school hours, said Schoonmaker. The cost for the officers' overtime is currently being borne by the district budget, although the Town Council has committed to helping should there be a shortfall for the unplanned expense this year, said Schoonmaker.
Meanwhile, to help find the money, "We're freezing everything as of Feb. 1. Every purchase order will come through my office," said Schoonmaker.
Schoonmaker said the district feels it's making the right decision in keeping police at town schools since Dec. 14, while working in a "timely manner" to hire permanent school security officers.
"We felt it was important as an administrative team, and we've received great support from our parents in the community. We felt it was paramount to keep that sense of calm and security and to have that extended police presence," said Schoonmaker.
The new school security officers will be paid $20 per hour. The district will hire three full-time officers (seven-hour shifts) and three part-time officers (four-hour shifts). There are no job benefits or additional incentives. The district's current school security officer will remain on the job and supervise the new hires. To establish program protocol, outside agencies, including the town's police department, will be involved, said Schoonmaker.
The new officers will wear "soft uniforms" making them identifiable, said Schoonmaker. As well as initially hiring personnel, "We're hoping to move to vehicle recognition in near future, if possible," he added; for example by looking to "resurrect police vehicles that move off the fleet."
Beyond that, he said, not much more can be shared.
"We don't disclose too much around security, but it's important to know we feel we have a very progressive model in place, that's very responsible fiscally, and that's going to help ensure the safety of our students and staff," said Schoonmaker.