Schools to beef up security: District gets $115k in grants, nears officer contract

By MADELINE HUGHES and CHEA WATERS EVANS

The Champlain Valley School District is getting just over $115,000 from the state for safety updates to its six schools, state officials announced last week.

Gov. Phil Scott’s office released a list of the recipients of School Safety Grants, part of $5 million appropriated by the state Legislature this year for elementary through high schools.

Lawmakers and state and local school officials became focused on school safety earlier this year after 14 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. A few days later, police foiled a student’s plot to shoot up his former high school in Fair Haven, Vt. Students led demonstrations and walkouts across Vermont and the nation after the tragedy, prompting closer attention to safety measures at individual schools.

This fall, 239 Vermont schools will share $4 million in funds for infrastructure updates; another $1 million is designated for planning and training.

Each of Champlain Valley’s six district schools are receiving funding through the program ranging from $4,500 in Hinesburg to $24,930 in Williston, averaging $19,200 overall. The average grant across the state was $16,000 per school, state officials said.

The state grant award announcement explained that the projects will “include interior and exterior door locks, indoor and outdoor public address systems and other infrastructure upgrades to improve safety.”

Schools had to apply for the grants in a competitive process where they were eligible for up to $25,000 each; districts are responsible for a 25 percent grant match for the projects they outlined. Funds will be distributed by the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

A statewide school safety assessment this spring helped school officials prioritize projects.

A 12-member committee evaluated grant applications submitted by school districts scored each application based on need as well as plans to implement the improvements.

The school district applied for funding for a total of 23 projects across its six schools; 18 were approved, Jeanne Jensen the district’s chief operations officer, said.

Of the five not funded, one was for Shelburne Community School and four were proposed for Hinesburg Community School, Jensen said. A state list of unfunded proposals showed denied requests of $8,625 for Shelburne and $13,050 for Hinesburg.

“That’s a reflection that Hinesburg is further along in those security projects,” Jensen explained.

The Champlain Valley School District merged in 2017. Prior to the merger, each school district approved varying security measures. For example, the number of cameras in school hallways and on building exteriors vary, Jensen said.

Before submitting their security needs to district administration, school administrators at each school met with their facilities management teams to decide which projects were a priority for their particular school.

Jensen would not comment on details the 18 projects awarded grant money citing security concerns, but said there are no facilities needs that are cause for alarm. “All the schools right now are secure,” she said. The goal is to eventually bring all schools in the district to a uniform level of facility security, she said, but that will take more time and money than just this current grant.

For now, CVSD is focusing on projects that can make a maximum impact. “The projects include enhancing campus-entryway monitoring, improving our mass-alert systems and upgrading window and door hardware,” she said in an email. “I’d prefer to not be specific by building for obvious reasons.”

Many of the measures will not be noticeable in schools, Jensen said, although students will see new flashing lights when fire alarms are activated this year. 

“As a district we have a high focus on keeping kids safe. If there were any glaring problems we would have fixed them by now,” Jensen said.

Hiring a resource officer

Another school safety item district officials have been working on in recent months is a proposal to hire a school resource officer.

District Superintendent Elaine Pinckney told the school board in May that she, along with Champlain Valley Union High School principal Adam Bunting and Jensen discussed such a position prior to the tragic Florida shooting and Vermont threat last winter.

Before the board’s summer hiatus, it left district administrators with a preliminary thumbs up to pursue creating a contract with a local municipality to hire a resource officer for the coming school year. This was a separate action from applying for the state safety grants.

To have a school resource officer, a school district needs to partner with a local police department to contract for the position.

The school district would pay for about 75 percent of the salary, benefits and other costs of the position; the municipality would cover the other 25 percent. The officer, however, would remain an employee of the law enforcement department, not the school district.

This summer, Jensen has been in contact with officials in the three towns in the district with police departments – Hinesburg, Shelburne and Williston.

“We have talked to all three towns – they are very supportive. It’s a matter of working out the details,” Jensen said Monday.

She explained that the district’s first choice would be to partner with Hinesburg Police because the high school is located in Hinesburg, close by the police department. Shelburne and Williston would be the next options, Jensen said.

School and police officials are still in discussions over the details.

Jensen said that the district is “anxious to move forward” with a contract and finding the right officer but, “we can’t start that process until we know what town we are partnering with.”

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