School safety was one of the main topics during the Washington County Board of Education’s first workshop as it began to prepare the 2013-14 budget.
At a special called meeting Thursday, the board unanimously accepted funding to procure third-party security assessments of the county’s 14 schools not to exceed $6,000 per school, contingent on approval by the County Commission.
Mayor Dan Eldridge offered the proposal to the school board in order to better understand the types of threats the school system could face.
The proposal essentially gives $84,000 to the school system so it can identify a security firm to perform the assessments. After the assessment is completed, the firm would return a review with the following criteria: threat and vulnerability assessment; facility and surrounding environment risk analysis; review of existing facility security measures; review of operating policies and procedures; systems and security personnel; identification of security deficiencies and vulnerabilities; recommendations for security enhancements to facilities, programs, policies and procedures; security enhancement implementation plan; and a written report with supporting documentation.
The school board would have the option to add any criteria to the list and would ultimately decide how to implement any security measures mentioned in the report.
Board member David Hammond said he wanted to make sure the best firm was chosen and that the assessment itself was not a replacement for assigning a school resource officer to each school.
Eldridge said the county has an open purchase order with Harrell Strategic Group, which has done some security work with the county and could be used to perform the assessment. He also assured board members the assessment was not being done in place of SROs. Instead, the assessment, if approved by the commission, it will be a way the county can enhance future security measures, including the implementation of additional SROs.
“In no way is this intended to be in lieu of SROs. This has absolutely nothing to do with that. This is due diligence. That’s what we’re asking for here. It’s just due diligence,” Eldridge said.
Board member Phillip McLain asked the mayor why spend $84,000 when an assessment could be performed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Eldridge responded by saying he believed it was important to have an independent organization look at safety in the schools.
“We’re comparing the sheriff’s department, which is law enforcement in Washington County, with security experts. That’s the difference, specifically security experts that are trained, knowledgeable, experienced in the types of threats we could potentially face,” he said.
The board also took its first look at next year’s budget.
Early projections show Washington County Schools will be about $2.5 million out of balance.
According to early figures, there will only be a little more than $200,000 in the fund balance to help offset the $2.5 million due to projected revenues.
After keeping the state-mandated 3 percent of dollars in fund balance, which comes to little more than $1.8 million, there will only be $205,497.34 available in the fund balance if revenues come in as low as expected.
Another budget workshop is scheduled for April 15.