Wake bond could have $18.1 million for school security

khui@newsobserver.comMarch 12, 2013 

Wake County school leaders could offer voters another reason to back a school construction bond issue this fall with as much as $18 million in proposed security upgrades designed to make the district’s schools safer.

School staff will present to a school board committee Wednesday a proposal to include between $7.1 million and $18.1 million in security measures in the next construction program. Options include more surveillance cameras, an electronic door-locking system, a centralized electronic visitor sign-in system, a front door buzzer system for all elementary schools and a centralized public address system.

School security has become a major concern since the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults. Some have suggested additional security officers and armed volunteers at Wake schools.

Tracey Singleton, PTA president of Timber Drive Elementary School in Garner, said Tuesday that she prefers measures such as locking doors and installing cameras to letting armed volunteers on campus. Singleton thinks the new equipment included in the staff proposal will make schools safer.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” she said.

Joe Desormeaux, the school system’s assistant superintendent for facilities, said all the measures except the buzzer system have been in the works since before the Sandy Hook shootings.

One Wake effort that can be traced to the Connecticut school massacre is a new task force on school safety that will hold its first meeting Thursday. Co-chaired by Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison and retired Raleigh Police Capt. Al White, the task force will recommend policy changes aimed at improving school safety.

But before the task force meets, the board’s facilities committee will learn what measures have been proposed by security staff. They include:

• Up to $11.7 million to install at least 16 closed-circuit television video cameras at every elementary school, at least 32 at every middle school and at least 64 at every high school. The cameras would be networked so that district security staff could access them.

• Up to $3.8 million to install an electronic locking system on the exterior doors at every school. Staff would have a badge to open the doors. Priority would be given to first equipping all the elementary schools.

• $1 million to install in every school a networked visitor registration system where security staff can check for sex offenders, conduct background checks and prevent a person from entering multiple schools.

• $1 million to install a public address intercom system at all schools that would be networked so security staff can do a mass notifications from a central location.

• $665,215 to install an entrance buzzer at all elementary schools because they would now all lock their front doors. A person at the school watching a camera would communicate with visitors over an intercom system to unlock the front door to let them in.

These new measures come after the school board tabled in January a vote on paying for an unarmed private security officer for all 105 elementary schools. But it’s uncertain when a school bond proposal that includes the new security measures will appear on the ballot.

The school board and county commissioners have been working toward getting a bond issue on the ballot in October. But at the last joint meeting in February, several school board members said an October vote might be too soon.

Even if it does appear on the ballot, it’s uncertain whether taxpayers would back a bond issue that could exceed $1 billion in borrowing, requiring a property tax increase.

Singleton, the Garner parent, said that if the security options were put up for a separate vote the public would easily approve them. But she said more parents are likely to approve a bond issue if it includes the security spending.

“It you put in the plan a security proposal, people would probably vote for it,” she said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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