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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Safety, security issues top priority for local schools

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

 

Glendive Public Schools administrators ran down a laundry list of infrastructure issues plaguing their aging school buildings at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Glendive Unified School Board’s Facilities Committee. But while every school suffers from a wide range of issues — from failing boilers to leaky roofs to nearly inoperable heating and cooling systems — it was issues of school safety and security which ultimately came to forefront of the discussion.

Every school administrator spoke to concerns about making the district’s schools more secure, and ultimately, every one named doing so as their top building priority.

“I think safety’s the top concern for all of us,” said DCHS Vice Principal Hugo Anderson.

Most of the security cameras in the district’s schools are currently not functioning, an issue which weighed heavily on school administrators’ minds. Out of the district’s four schools, only Dawson County High School still has the majority of its security cameras functioning.

The fact that most the security cameras in the district are not currently working weighed heavily on the minds of school board members, who asked how that could be since the district has in recent years replaced and upgraded the camera systems in all of the schools. 

School administrators responded that with the current set-up, the district has been trying to store and manage all the video security data  from every school on the district’s computer server. That has apparently overwhelmed the district’s server, rendering most of the security cameras inoperable.

“Our system can’t handle the load, that’s the basic thing,” said Washington Middle School Principal Mark Goyette.

Superintendent Ross Farber told board members that the most recent camera system installed by the district was a noble attempt to save the district money by running the system themselves which just hasn’t worked out.

“I think the plan was good it just didn’t work. Bottom line, it just didn’t work,” Farber said. “(The district’s technology director) tried to get it working inexpensively, but sometimes, you get what you pay for.”

To replace the current system, school administrators have been having preliminary discussions with a video system security company. Lincoln Elementary School Principal John Larsen noted that he was given an initial estimate of about $25,000 for the company to take over management and data storage of the school’s video security system. Under such a contract, the company would not only handle storing all the video data, but would be responsible for fixing any software or hardware issues that arise. The district would still own its cameras, but would also be responsible for the cost of replacing any cameras which are beyond repair with new ones.

“That does not upgrade my camera system, that allows them to take control of my existing camera system,” Larsen said of the security company’s proposal.

If the district were to make such a move, it would be for every school in the district, which Farber noted would add up to a significant expense for the district to absorb.

Jefferson Elementary School Principal Stephen Schreibeis offered his opinion that cost should be a secondary consideration when it comes to ensuring student safety.

“I don’t care how we get (the cameras) working. I don’t care if we pay two million dollars or five million dollars ... we’ve got to get them working,” Schreibeis said.

“To me, personally, if you don’t deal with safety, you’re taking the biggest risk,” Anderson added.

Inoperable security cameras aren’t the only safety issue weighing on administrators’ minds. The generally open nature of access to all the district’s schools is another concern they all share. None of Glendive’s schools were built with modern security concerns in mind, and so access to them is relatively open, and none of the schools have a way to readily see or control who is coming or going through their main entrances.

All the elementary school principals expressed a desire to have controlled access systems installed at their front entrances, while Anderson said DCHS needs to have some redesigning done to its main entrances to put the school offices right at the main entrance on Slocum Street so that school officials know who is entering and exiting the building.

Besides controlled access at the main entrances, all the administrators have other access concerns. For instance, many of the exterior doors in all the school buildings are so old parts can no longer be acquired for them, and many of them have faulty mechanisms which make them difficult to close or lock.

Another issue the district is about to be faced with are new federal regulations governing school fire and smoke alarm systems. None of the district’s schools meet those new standards, which will require the district to replace them in the coming years at significant cost.

“We are going to have to upgrade those by federal mandate in the next few years, and we have no choice in it, and the cost is borne by us,” Farber said.

Administrators, board members and Farber voiced their displeasure with the trends they are seeing in the current Montana Legislature, stating their opinion that more and more of the cost of maintaining and repairing school facilities seems to be falling on the backs of the local taxpayers due to shrinking investments at the state level. Farber noted that with little help seemingly forthcoming from the state, the district is likely to be forced to go back to local taxpayers to ask for funding to address the district’s school safety concerns, not to mention all the other major shortcomings the district’s buildings have.

“We’re back looking at bonding, that’s where we’re going to have to do, and especially if you look at what the Legislature is doing, which is nothing,” Farber said.

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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