GUILFORD -- Students may be a little safer when they return to Guilford Central School later this month.
The same goes for teachers and staff, as school administrators say they have worked to upgrade the building's security and also are exploring the idea of signing a contract with Windham County Sheriff's Department.
It is a proactive approach that is happening in schools everywhere, Guilford school Principal John Gagnon said.
"This is standard operating procedure to think about these types of issues," Gagnon said.
The changes came about after an insurance-company assessment of security at the small school, which now will host grades K-6 after a Town Meeting decision to tuition Guilford's seventh- and eighth-graders to Brattleboro Area Middle School.
A major element of the security upgrade was the installation of cameras outside the Central School.
"We now have 13 surveillance cameras," Gagnon said. "So we have protection -- security cameras -- on all sides of the building."
Also, the school secretary's office has been relocated. The idea, Gagnon said, is to shield school personnel in case an armed intruder enters the building.
The office was, "as you enter the building, on the right, very exposed," Gagnon said. "Now the secretary's office has been moved to a more protected area where she has visual access to the front door via video-camera monitors. But she's not as vulnerable."
There also may be a bigger law-enforcement presence at the school this year, as officials are considering hiring the sheriff's department on an on-demand basis.
Gagnon said a recent meeting included school administrators, town officials and county Sheriff Keith Clark.
"We talked about various configurations of a contract that Windham County Sheriff's Department could provide to Guilford School. We talked about the needs of Guilford School," Gagnon said. "And at the end of our 45-minute meeting, what would make most sense is for us to have what's called an on-call contract."
Such an arrangement "would enable us to call the Windham County Sheriff's Department and request their services for ad hoc contingencies," Gagnon said.
That could include asking deputies to be present at special events, to assist with truancy cases or to provide security at the school when administrators believe there might be a problem.
"Let's say you have a domestic dispute over custody, and you know that there's a great likelihood that one of the parents might be showing up the next day, and we want to have some kind of presence at the school to alleviate any issues," Gagnon said.
The town of Guilford has a supplemental-service contract with the sheriff's department. The school has no such agreement, and Gagnon said the school's first contact currently is the Vermont State Police.
For issues such as school-event security or truancy cases, state troopers are "not necessarily able to provide that service," Gagnon said.
"In something like a truancy case, the VSP has helped us out in the past," he said. "But they're stretched with their resources, and it's been really more as a courtesy to us and not something that normally falls under their mandate."
Gagnon said the school has money budgeted for what he believes will be a relatively small expense. There is no up-front cost, he said, and the school would be billed only for the security that the sheriff's department provides.
"There's a line item in our budget for security. It's a small line item -- a $4,000 line item. We've actually tapped into half of that line item, and that helped pay for the cost of the surveillance cameras," Gagnon told the school board.
"So we do have a couple thousand dollars that can be dedicated to an on-demand contract with the sheriff's department," he said. "And frankly, I would be shocked if we actually used that amount of money."
It will be up to the school board to review a proposed contract and to decide whether or not to enter an agreement with the sheriff's department.
But Gagnon said that, based on his discussion with Clark, he thinks it's a good fit for Guilford Central School.
"It is the type of service that I believe would be in the best interest of the school," he said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.