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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 5 years ago

Sarasota School Board hears request for cameras

by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

Following the Newtown, Conn., shooting, the Sarasota County School District budget will likely increase, while staff evaluates school safety and security policies.

School Manager of Safety and Security Darrell Reyka, during a Jan. 22 monthly workshop, briefed the Sarasota County School Board on district security policies.

During a closed session, Reyka recommended more funding for the capital budget, specifically for the safety and security department, to replace video surveillance cameras.

Government discussions involving security measures are exempt from Sunshine laws, according to the Florida Statutes.

“As you all know, security is a very important issue right now,” said School Board Chairwoman Jane Goodwin during a public workshop earlier in the day.

The School District capital budget has fallen 47% from $145 million to $77.6 million, in the 2012-2013 school year from the start of the Great Recession in 2007, according to the current budget.

“A lot of people don’t realize the role (video cameras) play,” Reyka said.

National School Safety and Security Services, a national school safety-consulting firm, recommended the creation of Reyka’s department during a 2003 audit. The firm also recommended buying digital surveillance cameras to replace black-and-white systems that record to VHS tapes.

The district has about 3,200 cameras on campuses throughout the county. Three to six are estimated to malfunction on a daily basis due to weather issues or technical difficulties, Reyka said before the meeting.

“If those cameras aren’t working, then I’m not doing my job,” Reyka said before the workshop.

A limited number of district staff members currently has remote access to the live video feeds and associated recordings. Reyka said his department will recommend allowing local law-enforcement agencies access.
School Board members also discussed whether to implement a lock-and-key policy to restrict access to certain school buildings. The details of the staff recommendation were not available by press time.

There are currently 11 sites on School District property that have limited or full access control, which means students or faculty need an access card to enter a building.

But, the public can freely access front offices at each district campus.

“Seems to me that at most of our schools people can still walk through the front door,” said School Board member Frank Kovach. “Once they’re into the office, they can get into the school.”

The U.S Department of Homeland Security has made available $830.9 million in three grant programs for increasing school district security, which is among grant funding options Sarasota County School District staff are considering.

During the meeting, School Board Past Chairwoman Caroline Zucker said the school district needs to address mental-health issues, as well.

The school district currently employs 17 behavioral specialists with an average salary of roughly $70,000 each. The district employed 22 full-time psychologists in 2006, according to a 2008 historical financial summary.

“There are a lot of things that can be done (to prevent a situation similar to Sandy Hook),”Goodwin said. “And a lot of those things require a little money.”

School Board safety timeline
The last time Sarasota County School officials made significant changes to school safety policies was in 2003. At that time the National School Safety and Security Service recommended the creation of a safety-and-security department and upgrading the district’s surveillance camera technology.
Nov. 2002 — Board requests outside assessment
Dec. 2002 — District issues request for proposals for consulting firm
Feb. 2003 — Board approves consulting contract with National School Safety and Security Services
July 2003 — Consultant visits schools, issues six interim reports
Aug. 2003 — District releases executive summary from final safety report.

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