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INDEPENDENCE – The first bells of the school year rang last week in Grayson County as students returning to the division were greeted by numerous improvements in security measures.
Division Superintendent Kevin Chalfant provided the school board with an update on summer projects during the board’s regular meeting earlier this month, which included upgrades to the safety and security, technology and pay raises for faculty.
During the budget process, the school board was given an additional $25,000 above the local required effort to put towards school security. The appropriation from the supervisors required a matching $25,000 in upgrades from the school division.
Chalfant provided the following updates:
• Door hardware at Independence Middle School (gym foyer) and lower level lock room entrances have been replaced.
• Point of entry systems, a buzzer with cameras at entrances, have been added to Fairview, Baywood and Independence Elementary.
• Doors to the high school cafeteria have been replaced.
• External doors have been replaced leading into the gym at Fairview.
• 21 additional security cameras have been purchased and existing cameras on Grayson County High School/Independence Middle School campus have been repaired and/or repositioned.
• 10 additional two-way radios have been purchased and the bandwidth has been updated.
“There are still a number of other facility improvements that need to be done,” Chalfant said. “We need additional cameras and radios to better monitor day-to-day activities, as well as updated interior door hardware and improved lighting to improve campus security.”
The division has applied for a grant of up to $100,000 from the state for further security enhancements. If awarded, the grant will require a $25,000 local match.
“There are a lot of projects we have put off that could be addressed if we get that $100,000 grant,” Chalfant added, noting that the board would either have to fund the local required match through cuts in other areas or by asking the supervisors for additional appropriation.
The board has taken no action on a grant to pay for additional school resource officers for the division. The county supervisors and the school board disagree on how to pay for the officers.
Following Chalfant’s update, he opened the floor to questions from board members.
Board Member Shannon Holdaway asked if staff had received training on the point of entry security systems. He pointed out that Sandy Hook Elementary had this system, but somebody opened the door, allowing the shooter to enter.
Chalfant said it will be a challenge to find the right balance between what is necessary for safety and security and “overdoing it.” He added that he didn’t want it to become a hassle for every legitimate parent or visitor that comes into the schools, but at the same time the schools needed to be diligent about who was allowed in.
“The state mandates that we have practice drills — not only fire, but for all emergency situations,” Chalfant said, noting that those become opportunities to do some pre-training. Staff can practice and then analyze how well the school did.
Holdaway then asked if the architectural design of the newer buildings gave an advantage over the older schools in terms of safety and security improvements.
Chalfant said that it did, because in many of the older schools have to rely on cameras only, while in the newer schools better sight lines were built into the design.
Part of the long-term plan is to do whatever is necessary – removing walls, adding windows, etc. – to get better sight lines in all schools.
The problem with relying only on cameras, he continued, is that in some schools a person could get down two or three halls before ever being seen by a camera.
The biggest facilities project completed this summer was upgrading the electrical infrastructure at the high school, Chalfant said.
While it can’t be seen as easily as new carpet or shiny new walls, Chalfant explained that students and faculty would see the difference in the ability to operate technology throughout the school.
“It will enable us to run the modern technology that we need for computers, as well as continue to add air conditioners,” Chalfant said.
The division has purchased additional external air conditioning units to cool the high school and Career And Technical Education (CATE) Center and will continue to buy a few each year.
Additional facilities upgrades this summer include:
• New propane boiler at Fairview.
• Flood retaining wall at Fries.
• Remodeled restrooms at the GCHS/IMS gym entrance.
• Partially remodeled athletic field restrooms.
• Painting at GCHS, IMS and other schools as needed.
• Replaced tile in the GCHS cafeteria.
• Repaired front entrance tile and steps at GCHS.
• Purchased new equipment for the automotive department.
• Replaced the flooring in the alternative education classroom.
Outside of the classrooms, the division has been making huge strides in improving athletic fields.
This summer the GCHS athletic field was graded and an irrigation system was installed.
Additionally, the field received Patriot Bermuda sod for the playing surface and to date the field has more than 90 percent coverage, with the expectation of 100 percent by the first home football game.
“After several years of having one of the worst playing fields in the region, we will now have one of the best and safest playing surfaces,” Chalfant said.
At IES, the playing surface was expanded to create a second regulation-size field to be used for football or soccer teams to practice. The new field at IES will also be used as a backup facility for spring athletics or JV and middle school games.
“We were also able to expand the playground area for IES, as well as level a second smaller area for P.E. and recess activities,” Chalfant said.
Work also continues on the field at Bridle Creek, as a third practice facility will be created at the closed school. The 8th grade football team will practice at this location on a regular basis.
One side of a modular unit at Bridle Creek will be converted into a restroom and dressing area and the gym will be cleared out for team meetings and possible winter practice.
At Grayson Highlands School, plans are moving forward to level off the field behind the school and make it a multi-purpose athletic facility.
Grayson County was able to purchase one bus in the 2012-13 budget and one in the 2013-14 budget, Chalfant said. The division had not purchased a bus in the past two years because of budget cuts.
Chalfant reminded the board of the aging fleet, which has more than 20 buses with 150,000 miles or more and six with more than 200,000 miles.
Chalfant said there is a similar situation with maintenance and transportation vehicles. The division has over 16 vehicles that are 15 years or older, with more than 125,000 miles on them.
Chalfant expressed his concern that the aging vehicles could become a problem down the road if the division doesn’t get started on some sort of replacement plan.
“We’ve got to get on a rotation and do the best we can to stay on that rotation so we don’t get into a situation where we have kids and staff breaking down on the side of the road,” he told the board. “We’re responsible when we put kids on a bus or a car and it’s our responsibility to make sure it’s safe.”
The division purchased one maintenance truck in the past four years because of cutbacks, and purchased an additional utility truck and two transportation cars to replenish the aging vehicles that will not pass inspection this year.
After the presentation, Holdaway reiterated his concern with the aging buses.
“We’re falling further and further behind,” Holdaway said of the number of buses bought between last budget year and this one.
“We need to address it. It’s just a matter of funding,” Chalfant said.
The school board’s budget is based on student enrollment. The division picks a number to build its budget on, and the plan works if that number comes in relatively close to the estimate. If, however, that number drops, then the division is stuck in “cutting mode.”
“When you’re in a cutting mode for so long, you fall behind in several areas,” Chalfant said, making note of the decreasing attendance for the past several years.
“Now… where do we catch up? What is more important than other areas? We’ve got our fingers crossed that enrollment will stay steady.”
Beginning this year, Grayson County has contracted Lingo Technology for the day-to-day operation, as well as new enhancements to the school division’s eight schools.
Chalfant added that the bulk of the technology budget provided by state money will be spent on providing wireless technology to all sites in the division. The work will be done in phases, starting with the high school.
A secondary project will address the division’s backup systems, both through local servers and cloud-based storage.
Using the governor’s 2 percent increase for teachers, Chalfant said the division has been able to match that amount for all staff.
“By addressing the salary schedule with this increase, we have been able to attract teachers for positions which in the past were hard to fill,” he said. “We still face a discrepancy with other surrounding divisions, but we feel like we have taken a significant step in the right direction over the past two years.”