School safety, a hot button issue since the tragic slaying of 20 young schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. back in December, was the topic of conversation at the Unified School District 333 board of education Monday night at the Concordia Elementary School.
No action was taken following the nearly hour-long discussion, but it was decided that a survey would be taken to get an idea of what district patrons would like to see done to help assure the safety of the students.
“What I would like to do is come up with some kind of survey to mail to families in the district to see how much they want to do,” Beverly Mortimer, superintendent of schools, said.
A number of possible safety measures were brought up during the discussion including installing security cameras, locking the doors at the Concordia Junior-Senior High School during school hours and issuing keys to students who have to move from one building to another, adding a second Resource Officer so there would be one in each building in the district and training staff members to carry weapons in the schools.
“There are a lot of pieces to school safety. Our goal is to be the most effective and the most efficient,” Mortimer said, “Given the events in Connecticut, we have to make sure we don’t just react to that.”
Chris Rupert, a deputy with the Cloud County Sheriff’s Department, began the discussion by addressing some of concerns he had, including the easy access to the junior-senior high school, cell phone use by students while at school, evacuating during a bomb threat.
“How many bomb threats are real?” Rupert asked, “I don’t believe in evacuating to an open area.”
Rupert,who is a concealed carry trainer, made some suggestions to the board such as requesting law enforcement to be in front of the schools before school and after school, placing armed guards in the buildings or training staff members to carry concealed weapons. He offered free concealed carry training.
If the district opted to have armed security guards, he recommended using retired law enforcement officers or off-duty officers.
Mortimer presented a number of ideas to the board that included looking at curriculum, facility improvements at the junior-senior high school to make it more secure, installing security cameras, adding a second Resource Officer so there would be one in each building and training staff for concealed carry.
“It is more than concealed carry training,” Mortimer said, “If I was going to entertain concealed carry I would demand a lot more than that.”
Mortimer has talked with the superintendent of schools in the Harrold (Texas) Independent School District, which allows some staff members to carry guns. She told board members he is willing to do a conference call if they want.
Mortimer also told board members that the Emporia district has made the change to arm their security guards and that El Dorado has its own police department in the district.
“I will do what our families and what our community wants us to do,” Mortimer said.
In one of only two action items on the agenda during the meeting, the board voted unanimously to authorize the superintendent to issue a request for qualifications, and advertise in the local paper from Jan. 15 to Jan. 29 to solicit a design build contractor that would design and construct a new heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) system at the elementary school.
Mortimer would recommend a contractor at the February board meeting.
There are a number of issues with the current HVAC system at the school.
“We were told it was obsolete the day the doors opened on this building,” Mortimer said.
The current two-pipe system is operating at a cost of $1.20 per square foot which is higher than the average of $1.00 per square foot for other districts in Kansas.
A new HVAC system can be paid for with a bond and state aid dollars or by financing through a municipal lease purchase with the debt service being paid with the annual utility savings, annual operational savings and annual capital outlay.
The lease purchase option can be approved by the board, the bond/state aid option requires a majority community vote.
Mortimer told the board that a design build contractor would design a system and see the installation through to the end.
“If it doesn’t work, it is back on that company,” Mortimer said.
In the other action taken during the meeting, the board appointed Pat Murk and Steve Wetter to the negotiating team.
Connie Istas, the music instructor at the elementary school, gave the board a presentation on the work with keyboards the K-3 students are doing.
January is Board of Education Recognition Month, and Mortimer thanked the board members for the work they do.