In the classroom

GREENSBORO — A proposed $10 million safety and security fund would pay for safety improvements for every school in Guilford County Schools, the district’s chief operations officer says.

Board of Education members voted Tuesday to formally request that county commissioners create the fund and add the $10 million. The next step, Chief Operations Officer Scott McCully said, is to get the request onto the commissioners’ agenda and for them to vote on it.

If and when the commissioners approve the fund, he said Wednesday, district administrators can begin using the money for safety upgrades. Some larger individual purchases or contracts may require additional school board approval, he said.

The district looks to spend about $4 million on more secure school doors, McCully said. That includes putting more exterior doors under electronic control for locking, as well as addressing inside and outside door maintenance needs.

Under the spending plan outlined in the agenda, another $2.5 million would go for communication systems, $2 million for security cameras and surveillance systems, $685,000 for fire alarm systems and $615,000 for student photo-badge printing stations. About $200,000 would go toward contingency to cover if anything costs more than expected.

District administrators consulted with the Greensboro and High Point police departments and the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, as well as other school districts, in designing the proposed plan for safety spending.

McCully and Superintendent Sharon Contreras stressed the importance of upgrading district communication systems. Their plan includes each school getting multiple new, two-way radios. Those would in many cases replace equipment they feel isn’t reliable enough for emergency use.

“We were advised that two-way radios may be the single-most effective way to support staff and first responders in a crisis and to also prevent a crisis,” Contreras said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, several school board members had questions for McCully about plans for the money, especially members Byron Gladden and Anita Sharpe.

Sharpe asked whether it would make sense to spend money on perimeter fencing for schools, to help keep students who are outside on campus safe. McCully said for the amount of fence that’s needed to block off a whole school property, the district can get more safety and security from other measures.

In response to a question about the photo printing stations, he and Contreras said putting card printing stations in schools would allow students to get replacement IDs sooner. Currently, schools have submit an order to central office and wait for the card to come back.

Gladden voiced concern about safety for students and teachers having classes in mobile units, and wondered if the district could consider equipping those teachers with two-way radios. McCully said he could look into the idea.

While the schools still need approval from commissioners, getting to this point has been more than a year in the making.

In spring 2018, a couple of months after a mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., Guilford County Schools leaders requested the commissioners provide $4.9 million for security upgrades for schools around the county as part of their annual budget request for 2018-19.

When county commissioners discussed the request, Commissioner Justin Conrad gained support from fellow board members for an unexpected proposal. Instead of the $4.9 million the schools requested, Conrad suggested commissioners issue a $10 million bond to cover capital expenditures for school safety and security.

Capital expenditure means the money goes for “bricks and mortar” items — like better doors or security cameras — not new staff.

Moving to a bond to fund the request left school leaders waiting longer for the money they’d requested, but with a solid hope that they would get double what they originally sought.

At Conrad’s recommendation, commissioners hinged their eventual spending decisions on the results of a wider joint study of all of the school system’s buildings and boundaries that came out last school year. They wanted school leaders to learn from the study in developing additional security money spending plans.

In June, county commissioners followed through on the plan they’d come up with the year before, approving a $10 million bond for capital expenditures for safety and security improvements for the schools.

Contreras and McCully stressed that while the money would fund a major step toward making schools much safer, there are other needed security and safety upgrades that would need to fit into other school renovation or rebuilding plans, rather than handled separately. They expect to consider security concerns as part of the district’s master plan for future construction.

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Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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