With student safety a growing concern, Georgia's school systems will be able to enhance their security measures for the upcoming academic year.
The Georgia General Assembly appropriated $16 million in bond funding this year to enable the state's 2,200-plus schools to heighten their security, and all districts were notified June 4 by State School Superintendent Richard Woods that they'll receive a base amount of $25,000 plus a share of the remaining $11.5 million that will be allocated according to the number of students enrolled in each district.
“It’s our absolute first priority at the state level to make sure students have a safe, secure place to learn,” Woods said in a press release. “School leaders in Georgia, in partnership with law enforcement and emergency management agencies, are doing great work to keep students safe, and I know these funds will help them go even further to improve school security. I deeply appreciate the leadership of the Georgia General Assembly on this issue and will continue to work with them to address this issue in a comprehensive way.”
State law requires districts to use the funding for improvements or refurbishments to their physical footprint, such as fencing or security doors, and/or equipment that can be capitalized, such as security camera systems. It cannot be used for salary or other personnel expenditures or for ongoing operational costs, the release said.
With 13,267 students at the time of the award, the Bartow County School System will receive an additional $88,840 in funding for a total of $113,840 to spend on extra security measures.
"Everyone recognizes that this is our top priority," said Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page, who took over as the system's leader June 1. "We are very appreciative of our state school superintendent's efforts and the funds allocated to us. It will allow us to re-examine our preparedness in several areas, including facilities, partnerships and communication."
Page added he knew state legislators were trying to find new ways to help local school districts improve their security, "but I was unaware of the amount of resources they would be able to provide."
The new superintendent said the system's "overarching goal" is to have the new safety measures instituted during the 2018-19 school year.
"I would like to bring our principals, school police department and local law enforcement agencies together to collaborate and identify the best way to enhance already-existing school safety initiatives," he said. "After that meeting and a needs assessment, we plan to allocate the money to meet the individual needs of each school."
With 4,481 students, the Cartersville City School System received an additional $30,004, making its total allotment $55,004.
"We are very excited to receive the funding provided by the state for addressing school safety," said Dr. Marc Feuerbach, who takes over as superintendent next week. "Maintaining a secure learning environment is an essential key to facilitating student growth."
He added his leadership team will "begin right away to identify additional ways to protect our students and staff."
The school district already has two new security measures set to begin when school starts in August.
"We are adding a second school resource officer at the high school, along with a trained K9 patrol dog," Feuerbach said, noting school security is "always a top priority."
All school district employees also will have access to the School Guard app for smart devices.
"When users are present on any Cartersville City School System campus and initiate an alert, the app will instantly contact 911, display a mapped location to the source of the alert, alert all teachers and staff members, alert all participating schools within 5 miles as well as all participating on- and off-duty law enforcement officers who are near the school location," he said. "A second feature allows faculty and staff members to alert school administrators in case they are needed to assist in a situation."
Since March, Bartow County has "added even more initiatives to strengthen our commitment" to keeping students and employees safe, Page said, noting the leadership is "proud of our current school safety protocols and procedures."
"We have purchased about a dozen access-control systems, analyzed active-shooter plans, tested 911 buttons and developed a hotline so concerned citizens can make anonymous phone calls, text messages or emails to report illegal activity or threats made against a Bartow County Schools student or staff member. We have also partnered with the Bartow County Sheriff's Office to put deputies in designated elementary schools throughout the week. Again, our commitment to you includes a promise to always evaluate and re-evaluate safety plans and make changes were applicable throughout the school year to ensure a positive school climate."
For Cartersville, Feuerbach said all surveillance cameras at the high school have been replaced with higher-resolution cameras.
"Also, the higher-resolution cameras were installed in more locations to provide better coverage of the campus," he said. "The existing cameras will be relocated to Cartersville Primary, Elementary and Middle schools."