BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Additional security personnel, a two-way radio in every teacher's hand, working locks on every door, and digital security cameras in every school are among the items being identified as needs by safety committees in the Greene County School System.
An Administrative Safety Committee chaired by Camp Creek Elementary School Principal Bill Ripley has been working to identify, evaluate, rank and implement the safety needs.
The County Board of Education and the County Commission have also formed an Education Safety Committee to follow-up on safety-related items requiring funding.
Ripley attended Thursday's meeting of the Education Safety Committee to share some of his team's findings, including what he said is a need for "police and security personnel increased to the greatest extent possible."
Education Safety Committee Chairman Nathan Brown noted an idea proposed by County Commissioner David Crum, who suggested that the required cost of the school safety measures could be put to the public in a referendum.
In the referendum, Greene Countians would be asked to vote on an addition to the county Motor Vehicle Tax, commonly referred to as the wheel tax, with the increase used specifically to cover the cost of the safety-related actions.
"Let people vote on it," Brown said. "If it's that important to the public, vote for it, and we can get the money for it. If not, we'll carry on with what we have."
County School System Maintenance Director David Myers noted that, if an officer was placed in each school, this would be a cost and responsibility within the Sheriff's Department's budget and not the school system's budget.
Sheriff Steve Burns has already assigned Sgt. Nick Milligan as the school system's contact for safety and security advice.
Sgt. Milligan, along with fellow Sgt. David Beverly, was present on Thursday. He informed the committee that he and Sgt. Beverly are beginning to do walk-throughs of the schools to identify safety issues.
These steps include dressing in plain clothes and trying to gain access to the schools without entering through the office -- something that they have been able to do at some of the schools, they said.
Ripley noted that all county schools are emphasizing a policy that only staff personnel can aid someone in gaining entrance to a building.
"It's human nature," Beverly said of students' tendency to let visitors into buildings. "We want to trust each other."
While on site at the schools, the sergeants also advise staff on safety procedures and review schools' policies.
Milligan also noted that he would like to hold an "active shooter school" for between 10 to 15 deputies at each of the county's four high schools at a time when students are not present.
Teachers, he added, have expressed interest in participating and will be welcome to join the exercise once dates are set.
On Thursday, Chairman Brown reported what costs the committees have been able to gather so far for items such as two-way radios, earbuds, and safety entrances to school buildings.
The cost of magnetic and other locks for the doors is not yet known, he said.
Brown said estimates indicate that the system will need 625 radios at the cost of about $14 each, for a total of about $8,750.
Milligan tentatively estimated the cost of earbuds for the radios at about $20 each, for an additional $12,500.
Brown also questioned Myers about which schools have digital cameras able to record, and have live feeds available on a password-encrypted website.
Myers said that there are nine schools currently using analog cameras that would need to be replaced or that have no cameras at all.
He estimated the cost at about $27,000 per school.
Myers also said that there are six schools currently without safety entrances, but three of these have safety entrances budgeted, with construction under way.
A safety entrance at the remaining three schools would cost about $17,200 at one school, about $9,000 at another, and about $24,250 at a third, Myers estimated.
"The things that Mr. Brown is bringing up now are a huge part [of the Administrative Safety Committee's recommendations]," Ripley said. "Things that we feel like we need in order to be safe."
The committee concluded the meeting by agreeing to begin raising money from Ruritans and other community organizations for items such as the teacher radios.
Anyone interested in making a donation for a specific school or to the system in general for this use may do so in care of Mary Lou Woolsey at the Greene County School System's Central Office.