(Feb. 22, 2013) Mirroring a demand that has been sweeping the nation since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Worcester County Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday to support a Worcester County Sheriff’s Office request for funding to place armed officers in all of the county’s schools.
The move follows the completion last month of extensive safety audits of each of the county’s school facilities by school safety committees and a task force of local law enforcement representatives.
Under the recommendation from school administrators, the sheriff’s office will be asking the county commissioners to include it its fiscal year 2014 budget the additional money needed to hire and train 13 new School Resource Officers, who will cover all 14 of the county’s institutions. Because Snow Hill Middle School and the Cedar Chapel Special School share a campus, one officer will cater to both schools.
According to Col. Doug Dods of the sheriff’s office, first-year costs per new officer — including salary, equipment, and training — average $120,989. Second-year costs come to $63,436 per officer.
The recommendation also supports a number of smaller capital and infrastructure improvements to increase school security, with an estimated price tag of $218,500.
“The sheriff’s department has submitted a budget to fund the 13 officers,” Assistant Superintendent for Administration Louis Taylor said. “These [capital improvements] are things we need to secure funding on as soon as possible.”
In addition to the officers’ presence, the safety plan involves the installation of electronic buzzer entry systems with cameras and two-way intercoms on the front doors of all county schools, as well as the central administration office. The cost of that aspect of the plan is $65,000.
Nine entry systems requiring access cards are also proposed to be installed on the exterior doors of the portable classroom trailers that are used at five of the county’s schools, with a total price tag of $63,000.
Further, the funding request will include a provision for all 14 schools, as well as the central office, to receive visitor identification and badge printing systems that will scan visitors’ drivers’ licenses and issue them a photo ID sticker for their visit to the school.
“When it checks your drivers’ license, we’ll also have the opportunity to see if you’re a sex offender, or have other criminal records like that which would show up on your license,” said Steve Price, the schools’ head of transportation and facilities management, who has hence become the county’s de-facto school security coordinator.
The cost for the ID system will be $20,425, plus an additional $5,000 annually for software licensing.
“I have spoken to vendors who are very anxious to provide these products to us, but we need money to proceed,” Price said.
The safety proposal also allocates $25,000 to add eight more security cameras to the district’s current 328. Another $25,000 is allocated to tint windows at four schools that have parking lots or roads providing a close view into classrooms, and another $20,000 is to be put towards installing oversized planters or traffic bollards in front of six school entrances that are at risk of being rammed by a vehicle.
“The sheriff’s department was very concerned about intrusion by a vehicle in some of our schools,” Price said.
School officials said that the proposed safety budget was a good compromise of common-sense measures that were not overbearing. They had received comments from many parents, they said, some of whom desired more strict security and some who desired less.
“There may be some inconveniences involved with some of the security measures, but everyone needs to understand that the inconvenience is necessary to ensure the safety of our students,” Price said.
Several parents of county students attended the board meeting, all of whom advocated stronger security measures. Although side entrances are locked after the school day beings, parent Jacqueline Cutlip asked, “Why the front doors are still open, even now?”
“We’ve still not made a decision on whether we’re going to lock those doors or not,” Taylor said, stressing that manual locks meant staff would have to physically open the doors for each entrant if they were locked.
“We have to make sure we have a practical procedure in order to do that,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson. Having no timely means of access could present an issue for fire and EMS personnel.
Cutlip also questioned why the implementation of the new school deputies was estimated to take until the 2014-2015 school year.
“That’s what it takes if you’re sending them [officers] to the academy after hiring them right off the street,” he said.
The safety plan and its expenditures will likely be brought before the County Commissioners at their March 5 session for approval.