September 25, 2018 02:58 PM
This week, schools across Minnesota will learn if they'll get a portion of $25 million in state grant money that was set aside specifically for safety and security upgrades by the legislature.
It's part of a larger effort to improve safety and security in schools across the state. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has found dozens of districts that have already spent millions of dollars on such projects thanks to voter-approved bond referendums, according to records reviewed from the Minnesota School Board Association (MBSA).
According to the MSBA, 31 school districts put bond referendum questions on the ballot since 2015, that specifically addressed improvements to school security. Of those 31, voters in 25 school districts passed the referendums, according to the MSBA.
Charles McCready, who is a parent in Apple Valley, said it wasn't hard to convince parents in his school district to pass a $180 million bond referendum question in 2015. $35 million of that portion would go to major renovations and new technology upgrades to support school safety.
"I went out and knocked on doors to make sure it got funded," McCready said. "You say, wow, maybe it shouldn't be so easy to come into the school."
At dozens of elementary and middle schools across the school district that covers Apple Valley, construction on new, secure entrances wrapped up just before the start of the school year.
Michelle DeKam Palmieri is principal at Greenleaf Elementary, one of the schools that underwent a renovation to update the existing main entrance.
Palmieri said before the new vestibule with bullet-proof glass was built, it was very easy to enter the school undetected. After the improvements, there is only one way to get in.
"At 9:25 a.m., those three doors automatically lock down," Palmieri said, pointing to the new entrance. "The door over there to the office is really the only door that's accessible to the school."
School Districts with Bond Referendum Questions on the Nov. 6 Ballot
(Source: Minnesota's Department of Education and Minnesota School Board Association)
As part of the 2015 bond referendum, the school district created a new administrative position. Mary Thompson is the safety and security coordinator.
"We are putting systems in place and procedures in place, to limit the amount of error or having someone in our building that shouldn't be," Thompson said.
But without a boost from bond money, other school districts fund what they can, when they can.
Osseo Area Schools is one example. Using general funds this year, the district will install 800 brand new, digital surveillance cameras in 31 buildings.
Dave Moredock is risk management coordinator. He said the district had to prioritize funding. Leaders wanted to make sure every hallway, stairwell and other common space had eyes on it.
"Parents want more security and they want it now," Moredock said.
Osseo also has applied for grants from Minnesota's Department of Education. But Moredock said the amounts typically don't cover major, long-term projects. For example, schools who are awarded a portion of the $25 million grants being announced this month, will only get a maximum of $500,000.
"We've identified our overall security needs, in the entire district, to be $16 million and that's a huge amount," Moredock said.
The state education department will announce the grant recipients on Sept. 28.
Updated: September 25, 2018 02:58 PM
Created: September 24, 2018 10:27 AM
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