How metro school systems use money for safety, security

School districts large and small have beefed up security in the past few years. As “active shooter” has become an everyday phrase and school lockdowns have become common, many taxpayer dollars have gone toward increased police presence, improved security at entry points and, most recently, mental health counselors.

The AJC asked metro Atlanta school districts to share details about security and safety improvements this first half of the 2019-2020 school year. Here is how some of them said they’re using that money.

In partnership with Marietta Police and Department of Justice, the Marietta school system, with 8,900 students at 12 schools, recently received a grant to fund the salaries and equipment for two new Marietta police officer positions. The focus is to prevent and combat gang activity. While there is not a current gang problem in the Marietta City Schools, “this is a step at being proactive instead of reactive,” said Marietta City Schools Superintendent Grant Rivera. “Our strategy is for the officers to build relationships with the students so if the situation arises where there are threats or dangers, they feel comfortable and confident in talking to the SROs (school resource officers).”

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With three officers currently assigned specifically to the high school, middle school and the sixth-grade center, the new officers will be a hybrid between gang task force officers and school resource officers.

The $250,000 grant includes matching funds from the city and the city school board spanning a four-year period, after which the cost of the positions will be absorbed by the city and city school system.

The Fulton County School Board increased its budget for safety and security for 2019-20 by $806,973, to fully fund an additional 16 school resource officers and four campus security associates that were added at the end of fiscal year 2019. Part of the increase was for salaries.

In addition to the money in the general budget, Fulton’s current SPLOST penny sales tax for schools allocated approximately $15.7 million for safety and security. The major areas funded are new digital surveillance systems, a visitor management system, 27 new or replacement police vehicles, an internal communication system for crisis management, social media monitoring and a new report management system that allows easier access to criminal records among metro police departments.

Clayton County Public Schools’ budget for safety and security was increased by $128,834. This increase covered employee pay raises and benefits.

Gwinnett County has allocated approximately $17 million for enhancements to school safety and security identified through the school safety plans and prioritized by the district.

Gwinnett also added seven school resource officers and upgraded all police officer equipment and radio system for the 2019-2020 school year.

The Cherokee County School District increased safety funding by $1.7 million for improvements at every school, such as additional exterior and interior security cameras. It also added $600,000 for CCSD School Police Department operations; and $750,000 in additional funding for CCSD’s new social and emotional learning initiative, which the superintendent and school board view as directly supporting safety and security. That initiative includes creating an executive director position and CCSD’s first mental health counselors.

Forsyth County Schools has $7 million in its 2018 bond issue allocated to safety. Those funds were used this year to construct double entries at all elementary schools. That type of entryway will be added this summer at middle schools. The district also added more cameras and employee badge access readers, and bought new radios for school buses.

The Douglas County school System increased spending on school safety by $600,000. Of that increase, $150,000 was spent adding a new school police officer and increasing the portion the district pays for police officer salaries. The district splits the cost of officer pay with the sheriff’s department. The rest was spent on badges, cameras and upgrading the security on campuses. The school buildings are all now closed campuses, with one main entrance. All high school students now carry electronic cards/IDs to access doors on their campus. All high schools now have electronic card access.

Beginning in January, all Douglas schools will be equipped with visitor management kiosks. These will allow staff to instantly screen everyone coming onto campus.

Douglas also implemented the use of wearable devices where teachers and administrators can trigger a campus-wide lockdown and instantly notify law enforcement.

School safety spending is also expected to increase for the 2020-2021 school year. The district is studying the feasibility of adding school police officers in the remaining elementary schools at a cost of $795,000.

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