Education

$1.7 million in security upgrades approved for Manatee County schools

Update: Due to an outdated document attached to Tuesday’s school board agenda, a previous version of this story said the Manatee County School District would install security fences at 31 elementary, middle and high schools. The school board reallocated its state grant, taking it away from the fencing project and putting it toward surveillance cameras for several locations throughout the district. District spokesman Mike Barber said the updated project document was “inadvertently missing” from the public school board agenda.

The school district will have hundreds of security cameras installed at 10 locations throughout Manatee County, reallocating a state grant that was previously slated for security fences at 31 schools.

Of the schools listed in Manatee’s original project, most were less than 75 percent enclosed, while several schools had less than 26 percent coverage on their perimeters. A $1.7 million grant from the Florida Department of Education was earmarked for the fencing project, but the school board voted on Tuesday afternoon to reallocate the money and buy security cameras for a handful of buildings.

“The scope of the project has since changed to address more immediate security needs within our schools,” the agenda stated.

On the same day, a district administrator outlined Manatee’s new facility report. Jane Dreger, director of construction services, said the school district would need to spend an estimated $656 million over the next 10 years to address aging roofs, interiors, plumbing systems and mechanical devices, among other maintenance needs.

Security upgrades were among nearly $6.7 million in “Priority One” deficiencies — Manatee’s short-term needs — included on Tuesday’s presentation. It listed cameras, secure entrances and full-perimeter fencing as “easily identifiable and correctable” needs.

Despite a change in state law adopted just last week, school board members and charter school officials have indicated they will not expand the “guardian program” and allow teachers to carry guns at school. Campus officials won’t be arming teachers any time soon, but other security plans are in the works.

While a majority of the state grant will cover new fences and related upgrades, about $244,000 is slated for other projects at charter schools. Imagine Charter School at North Manatee plans to spend nearly $4,000 on bullet-resistant glass for its lobby doors.

The school also plans to spend more than $5,400 on Barracuda Intruder Defense Systems, a portable device that attaches to the top, bottom or handle of a door, barricading it from the inside.

State College of Florida Collegiate School will buy 34 “lockdown door barriers” for $2,040. It will cost Team Success about $26,500 to install 37 security cameras on its campus, and about $1,500 for another school to install a panic button at its front desk.

Rowlett Middle Academy, in Bradenton, will spend more than $17,000 to erect LED lights in its parking lots, doorways and hallways, according to the plan.

Improving the physical security of a campus, known as school hardening, was a statewide priority after the high school shooting in Parkland, which left 17 people dead on Feb. 14, 2018.

Former Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 7026 less than one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The legislation made headlines for its creation of school guardians, armed men and women who pass 144 hours of training and have no law enforcement authority.

The legislation also designated nearly $99 million for school hardening, with each district submitting a grant application and a report of its security needs. The Florida Legislature recently approved $50 million in school hardening grants for the upcoming year.

School districts should identify quick, cost-effective upgrades and then long-term hardening projects, according to a report from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Legislators formed the commission to address statewide issues after the Parkland shooting.

The commission listed fences, lighting and bullet-resistant glass under its moderate and long-term recommendations.

“While there are funding challenges and some laws, rules or regulations may be impediments to better ‘hardened’ schools, our schools’ greatest vulnerabilities exist because of voids in basic security policies and strategies,” the commission reported.

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