The Alamance-Burlington school board is likely to revisit its funding priorities for the school system’s county budget request for the upcoming fiscal year in light of the shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday afternoon.
Sandy Ellington-Graves, the school board chairman, said Wednesday, “I want this [shooting in Texas] to sharpen our focus on school safety so that we can take action to prevent something like this from ever happening in an ABSS school. It is imperative that we reevaluate our spending priorities.”
The proposed county budget request that was originally presented to school board members in February had included $980,000, which was to have been designated for hiring 14 school resource officers (SROs). That line item was later reduced to $245,000 – enough to hire four additional SROs, instead of the 14 additional SROs that the school system’s administrators had originally proposed.
The 14 positions would’ve expanded the SRO coverage to all ABSS schools. There are now 36 SROs at: all six high schools, all seven middle schools, and 20 elementary schools. The Alamance County sheriff’s office provides a full-time dedicated SRO at each of the 13 schools in its jurisdiction, which includes 12 ABSS schools and Clover Garden School.
The Burlington police department provides six SROs at the two high schools (Cummings and Williams High schools) and two middle schools (Broadview and Turrentine Middle schools) within its jurisdiction, plus an SRO at the Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC) in Burlington, and a supervising sergeant for its SROs, based on a breakdown that ABSS furnished Wednesday to The Alamance News (see accompanying chart).
The Graham police department furnishes three SROs (at Graham High and Graham Middle schools, as well as at the alternative school, Ray Street Academy), all within its municipal limits.
The Burlington, Graham, Elon, Haw River, and Mebane police departments provide part-time SROs at the 14 elementary schools within their respective jurisdictions.
ABSS chief business officer Jeremy Teetor had told school board members at the time that 14 SROs were needed to provide coverage at 14 schools that don’t currently have a full-time SRO.
Board scaled back plans to hire 14 SROs to four SROs in upcoming fiscal year
As they began their discussions about the county budget request for ABSS earlier this spring, school board members agreed by consensus that the overall amount needed to be trimmed by about half, from the $7 million in new funding originally proposed to the final county budget request, which currently totals $4.8 million.
To get the total budget request down, the board decided to trim some of the individual line items in the county budget request.
But at the same time, several school board members wanted to shift the spending priorities for ABSS – specifically, by adjusting the dollar amounts assigned to various line items in order to set aside $691,000 in the county budget request for hiring 18 new school media assistants. That change was characterized as a response to increased demand for help with technology devices such as student laptops.
In a subsequent interview with The Alamance News, school board member Ryan Bowden said Wednesday morning that he’s hoping the board will reevaluate its spending priorities for 2022-23 in light of the latest school shooting in Texas on Tuesday afternoon.
Bowden, who works in public safety, as a Greensboro firefighter, ran for his first term on the board in 2020 on a campaign platform that included a need to improve school safety, he confirmed for the newspaper.
“Absolutely, I’ve already had conversations [with my fellow school board members],” Bowden told the newspaper Wednesday morning. “I believe it’s extremely important that we continue working closely with our county commissioners to find the funding for the SRO program. Both boards have made great strides in the past few years to make this a priority. But we still have work to do. Currently, we have 14 elementary schools that do not have a full-time SRO.
“As a board member, school safety and the protection of our children, teachers, and staff will always be my number one priority, and I feel certain that my board colleagues share these priorities. Conversations have already begun. It’s imperative that we don’t just [talk] but take the needed actions immediately.”
An 18-year-old shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas (about 83 miles west of San Antonio) Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press (AP) reported. All of the victims were in the same fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary School, reportedly watching a movie when a bullet shattered a window and the shooter broke in and opened fire with a rifle. The shooter is believed to have legally purchased two rifles from a federally-licensed firearms dealer near Uvalde last week and bought 375 rounds of ammunition last Wednesday, according to AP reports.
Other security measures in ABSS schools
Some of the proceeds from the $150 million bond package that voters approved for ABSS in November 2018 will be used to beef up security systems, such as key-card entry systems (meaning every student and staff member will need an access card to enter schools that have keyless access systems), ABSS assistant superintendent Dr. Todd Thorpe has previously told school board members.
School board members also voted during their latest meeting Monday night to spend $381,000 to contract with H.M. Kern Corporation of Greensboro to install “security vestibules” at five ABSS schools. Those schools include: Graham Middle School; Haw River Elementary School; North Graham Elementary School; Ray Street Academy in Graham; and South Graham Elementary School.
Thorpe subsequently confirmed for The Alamance News that security vestibules – which provide an extra layer of protection against a school shooter or some other threat – were previously installed at seven ABSS schools; five schools are under contract; and 11 schools are in the design phase to have security vestibules installed. Seven schools that were included in the 2018 bond package also will have security vestibules installed, as will the forthcoming seventh high school along N.C. Highway 119 that’s targeted for completion in May 2023, Thorpe said Tuesday.
“All schools with safety vestibules have a multi-head [security] camera system at the front door,” Thorpe told the newspaper shortly after lunchtime Tuesday.
“School safety vestibules are designed to control access upon arrival to the school building,” Thorpe elaborated Wednesday morning. “Visitors must present identification and purpose for entering the building before school personnel approve permission to enter and unlock the door to the interior main hallway of the school.”
For his part, Lt. Brandon Mays, who supervises the SROs that the Alamance County sheriff’s office provides for ABSS schools, says that, at schools equipped with safety vestibules, visitors have to press a button to be granted access into a first entry door, where they enter a holding area that’s equipped with an “Ident-a-Kid” software system. “You scan your driver’s license,” before you’re granted access through a second locked door, Mays said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s an extra layer of security.”
It’ s unlikely that a fake license could be used to outwit the software system, Mays said, because the infrared laser technology, similar to what’s in a grocery store scanner, won’t read the license. It would be up to ABSS to implement protocols for how to handle visitors who come to the schools and present a driver’s license that the system won’t scan, Mays added.
Thorpe, the ABSS assistant superintendent, said that camera systems have been installed, or are in progress, at 16 ABSS schools, while seven schools are in the design phase to have security camera systems installed. All of the high schools will be upgraded to have security cameras installed, as part of the 2018 bond projects that are underway, he said. “All buildings will have camera systems when the safety project is completed,” Thorpe added.