‘Safety is the board’s responsibility:’ Souhegan candidates talk security

AMHERST – The Souhegan School Board intends to follow safety practices for the high school recommended by the school resource officers and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, school board member David Chen said.

Chen, an incumbent running for another three-year term on the board, was speaking at a candidates’ forum last week.

The two school resource officers, John Smith and Michael Knox, have recommended that the high school’s open campus be closed and about 90 interior cameras be installed inside. During presentations last year they said the school is not safe and the lack of cameras and access control are serious problems. Although exterior cameras were installed in the parking lot years ago, there are no interior cameras in the high school.

When the idea of cameras and access control have come up over the years, the school board has agreed with the school’s Community Council, which has opposed those measures as being out of place in the school community built on trust.

“Safety is the school board’s responsibility by law,” Chen said, and the board intends to follow the recommendations from the SROs and the police chief and the money should be in the operating budget. “Ultimately the decision has to be the school board’s. We can’t defer that responsibility to anyone else.”

His opponent, Martin Goulet, agreed, saying security is “foundational.”

Community Council is expected to come out with a report this spring and the school board is also expected to make a decision in May. Last week Safe Havens International, a nonprofit consulting firm, performed a safety audit of the campus and its findings should be part of the decision-making.

Chen also spoke about the issue of consolidating the three school districts. A district Streamline Committee had recommended integrating the Amherst and Mont Vernon school districts into the Souhegan Cooperative School District.

There are some problems involved in merging the three districts into one, he said, including union issues and the fact that Mont Vernon wants the town to always have its school building.

“I get nervous at the word ‘always,’ he said, and “there might be circumstances when we can’t deal with that.” He also noted that one of the Amherst village schools might have to close some day.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.