BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Ideas for safety improvements are abounding within the Greene County School System, but the recommended actions may come at a cost to the budget of the school system -- and maybe to the budget of the county.
Greene County Board of Education member Nathan Brown led the first meeting of the board's newly-formed Safety Committee on Thursday.
Present were board members Brown, Kathy Austin and Tommy Cobble, board Chairman Roger Jones, and County Commissioners David Crum, Nathan Holt and Robin Quillen.
Brown informed others of recommendations provided from an administrative safety subcommittee formed by County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk.
This subcommittee includes principals, administrators and local law enforcement officers, who are working together to review policies, procedures and all aspects of the school system's safety measures.
Their recommendations are then taken before the board's Safety Committee for further cost analysis, Brown explained.
While the cost of implementing the enhanced security recommendations could certainly add up, committee members emphasized the importance of the need.
"We may need to raise taxes for this," Holt said, stating that he believes the community would be supportive of such a measure to protect the students.
"I hope we don't have to, but [we may] if it comes down to it."
Brown agreed that safety is a "top priority" for the school board as well.
"Schools are safer today than they've ever been in the past," he later added.
Cobble, however, bluntly told the committee that if a student decides to come in with a gun, all the safety measures the county would ever desire would be unlikely to stop him or her.
"We've got to do something [to improve safety], but we've got to be careful, too," he said, explaining that he does not want to see funds pulled from other areas that are important as well.
OFFICERS IN SCHOOLS
Turning to safety improvement requests that will come with a cost, Brown presented a list of priorities developed by the administrative safety subcommittee.
"[An officer in every school] -- that was their number one recommendation, that we should ask for it," Brown reported.
With this recommendation, however, the committee agreed to research the costs, grant availability and state aid.
The Safety Committee agreed that placing an officer in each of the county's 17 schools is a matter of cost, as well as a matter of the county's desire to study the issue before implementing changes.
"We'll squeeze a little bit," Quillen said. "I think [an officer in each school] is a very reassuring, comforting thing."
"It would definitely be a good part of this plan," Brown agreed.
He added, however, that the plan cannot stop there.
The top priority among the subcommittee's recommendations, he said, is constructing a safety entrance at every school that allows an administrator to buzz visitors into the school, and flows traffic into the school through the school office.
Currently, some schools allow visitors direct access to classrooms and common areas before entering the school office.
The County Board of Education has been working for the past two years to place safety entrances at each school and has dedicated capital funds for this purpose.
On Thursday, the Safety Committee did not know how many schools still lacked a safety entrance, but it was agreed that such information would be brought to the next meeting.
The subcommittee's recommendation for such entrances included Glenwood and Nolachuckey elementary schools, South Greene, West Greene and Chuckey-Doak high schools, and the T.H. McNeese Educational Center.
Once safety entrances are in place, Brown said, the subcommittee's next recommendation is for magnetic locks for the doors entering and, if affordable, exiting each school's office.
The purpose would be to make it possible for the administrator to block off an aggressive visitor.
The subcommittee also recommended additional equipment for teachers and schools, including two-way radios with earbuds for private intercommunication between teachers and administrators; working locks on every classroom door; and remotely-accessible camera systems in every school.
The Safety Committee focused much of their attention on the two-way radio suggestion, which is something that Brown said is already in place at DeBusk Elementary School.
"It's going to be an expense, but not a horrible expense," Brown said.
"You can buy those really cheap anymore," agreed Crum, who is a detective with the Greeneville Police Department.
Quillen recommended that the committee approach the community by sending requests to help fund these radios to parent-teacher associations, Ruritan Clubs and other organizations.
The committee embraced this idea, and Brown agreed at the committee's request to bring a specific brand and type of recommended two-way radio to the next meeting.
In addition, Crum asked that Brown collect from each principal an idea of what their "greatest fears" are, pertaining to safety.
Crum also asked for a specific look at how much extra time the Greene County Sheriff's Department is currently devoting to patrolling areas around schools and being present at the beginning and end of the school day.
The committee will meet again at 3:30 p.m. on March 21.