GREENSBORO — Guilford County Commissioners tapped the brakes on school district plans to spend $10 million on school security. Instead, the board last week approved $600,0000, for now, for the district to study its options.
In June, commissioners approved a $10 million bond for capital expenditures for safety and security improvements for the schools. The school board followed up last month, voting to request the commissioners immediately put $10 million into a fund for school leaders to use on school security and safety projects.
Superintendent Sharon Contreras and her staff had outlined plans of how they wanted to spend the money. They had anticipated spending about $4 million of the money to better secure doors across the district, $2.5 million 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.
Instead of signing over the full $10 million right away, however, commissioners want a study before the security projects proceed.
The schools will use the $600,000 to bring in outside expertise to help them look at three key areas, Chief Operations Officer Scott McCully said. Much of the focus, he said, would be on potential dead spots or poor reception for walkie-talkies or cellphones in the school district, and how that could be improved.
Both McCully and Alan Branson, the commissioners’ chairman, said Commissioner Alan Perdue brought up valuable points and information in discussing the radio connectivity issues. Perdue is a former director of Guilford County Emergency Services. Jim Albright, the district’s current director of emergency management, has also recommended the study, according to McCully.
“I think we all agree that this is absolutely a study that needs to take place,” McCully said.
The school district will also seek outside advice on surveillance and access control for the schools, McCully said. He is confident the study will build the case to commissioners for upgraded safety equipment for the schools.
Branson said he and one or two other commissioners met with McCully, Contreras, and school board Chairman Deena Hayes-Greene early last week to discuss the $10 million request. The commissioners then discussed it in a closed session on Thursday before voting to approve the $600,000.
Commissioners, Branson said, had some questions and concerns about the plans the district outlined for the $10 million. He wondered, for example, about the plan to use some of the money for fire alarm systems. Should that be in the budget as a regular occurring expense, rather than a one-time project?
Given that they are using a bond to pay for it, Branson said, commissioners might like the $10 million to be spent on projects that will have lasting value up to two decades from now.
Selling bonds essentially allows the county to spend money on a project upfront but pay for it over 20 years or so.
Branson and McCully said $10 million isn’t enough to make all the changes helpful for school security and that some projects may need to be funded as part of a potentially larger bond offering associated with an upcoming school facilities master plan.