At their regular meeting Tuesday, they established a separate line item for it in the district’s budget — and funded it with $1 million.
The move is the next step in a process that began with a district-wide safety evaluation of all campuses by Deputy Superintendent Erasmo Rodriguez following the Newtown, Conn., school shooting last February.
The Sandy Hooks Elementary School incident is the latest of 65 acts of random violence since 1927, according to a list compiled by CNN.
Fifty-four percent have occurred since 1991; 31 percent since 2000.
Together with district architect David Brown of Corpus Christi, Rodriguez explained to the board seven months ago that the district had to strike a balance between safety and cost.
They cited an estimate of $260,000 to install swipe-card readers on the doors at the high school; $220,000 for the middle school.
“How serious, or to what extent, do you wish for us to proceed with this?” Rodriguez asked the board. “We don’t want to spend money just to spend it. We want it to be meaningful,” he said. “But at this point, I am asking you to consider committing some funds for us to explore ways to improve our campuses in order to make them safer.”
In February, Rodriguez invited Guardian Security Solutions from Lubbock to brief school principals with state-of-the-art surveillance and security systems.
He says he didn’t have to search for vendors. “After Newtown, I was inundated with calls.”
The age of many of the district’s schools, designed to adhere to an open-school policy with multiple entrances, is a challenge. “We are exposed,” Rodriguez admits.
“In order to be safer, we are going to have to inconvenience people,” he said, by locking all the doors to a campus.
The more difficult campus to secure, he said, was the high school.
“It’s a trade-off,” he said after the board meeting. “I don’t want to turn the schools into prisons,” asking what message it would send to students and to parents were schools surrounded by high fences and razor wire. “I’ve been here a long time,” he says. “I’ve never wanted to give a negative view to a public school.”
Explaining to the board that the next step is to have Brown survey each campus to determine the cost of securing them, he told the trustees: “I’m trying to balance all this within budgetary restraints.”
He asked the board to allocate $500,000 to fund the district-wide survey.
Trustee Kevin Behr, who also is a law enforcement officer, moved to devote $200,000 to security. “I think that’s an adequate start,” he said.
“Considering the $200,000,” Rodriguez asked the board, jumping into the discussion, “are you saying I should discontinue the approach with the architects? That’s what I need to know so I won’t be wasting your time.”
Following a brief discussion, Behr then amended his motion to reflect $1 million.
“You don’t get to say that very often,” he said.
Rodriguez expects it will take Brown at least two months to survey all the campuses; he hopes to present a security plan to the board in January.
He also briefed trustees on “COPsync911,” a security system offered by a Dallas-based company already in use by the Bee County Sheriff’s Office and soon to be adopted by the Beeville Police Department.
To use the system, each school downloads a software program that allows the principal to click on a 911 icon on the screen in the event of an intruder. The program allows a separate staffer to confirm a problem. Otherwise, after 15 seconds, the system sends a message to the five closest police officers and also notifies the dispatcher.
The system also supplies the responding officers with a local map and diagram of the building.
“The officers will know exactly which door to use,” Behr said.
Rodriguez learned about the system only that day before the board meeting. It is used by 36 agencies — schools, banks, hospitals, fire and police departments — in 60 percent of Texas counties.
“COPsync911 costs $1,200 for each campus,” Rodriguez said, “and here I’m talking about $500,000 just for locks?”
Behr strongly endorsed the system, having worked with it directly.
Cost of the system for BISD would be $1,200 per campus, an additional $1,200 for the software license and a $600 training course. The total cost would be around $9,000. An annual license renewal fee would be an additional $1,200.
Rodriguez says the adoption of the COPsync911 system by the district would not be in lieu of more expensive security lock systems but, rather, would augment the safety program.
In the next week or two, he plans to meet with each principal to discuss the advantages of the system and hopes to have a proposal ready to present to the board at its next meeting.
Rodriguez, having measured the board’s commitment to safety, says he is enthusiastic about moving the safety concern forward, and finding the best security for the best cost.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.