Rock Hill school board considers $7.7 million for school security, technology

Superintendent asks Rock Hill board for $7.7 million for security, technology

scetrone@heraldonline.comJanuary 14, 2013 

  • Beefing up safety and technology

    Rock Hill school officials on Monday asked the school board to approve spending some $7.7 million on technology and safety projects across the district.

    Here’s a look at some of the proposed projects:

    $1 million: Increase district-wide wireless access and upgrade infrastructure.

    $850,000: Convert media centers to “learning commons” at 12 elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools.

    $744,000: Upgrade access control, security systems at schools.

    $657,000: Replace 411 laptops with MacBook Pro laptops from Apple this school year.

    $390,000: Secure entrances at seven elementary schools and three middle schools.

    $364,705: Install and upgrade surveillance cameras at schools and stadium.

    $160,000: Replace and upgrade school bus security cameras.

    $22,000: Create a more robust safety drill program.

    $ 4,000: Provide high-visibility safety vests for administrators to wear when outside on campus.

— Rock Hill school officials want to spend more than $7.7 million on school safety and technology projects over the next three years.

At a meeting on Monday, members of Superintendent Lynn Moody’s staff presented a series of “capital needs” to the seven-member school board, which has to vote on whether to spend the money.

The requests include:

$3.42 million to upgrade the district’s wireless network and add access points so more people can log on. The money also would buy about 700 MacBook Pro laptops and 2,000 desktop computers.

• $2.35 million to comply with safety and security measures recommended by Safe Havens International, a school safety consulting firm that reviewed the district’s 27 schools and eight support facilities and found a host of issues that should be addressed.

• $2 million to convert school libraries to “learning commons,” or hubs for digital research stocked with updated materials, computers and digital books.

To approve all of the projects, the school board will have to do some creative spending.

Part of it could come from $5 million in district reserves, which the school board voted last fall to put aside for construction and technology projects that might pop up. The rest would likely come from issuing bonds later this year, borrowing money that would be repaid with tax dollars.

The board is expected to vote on at least some of the requests on Jan. 28.

School safety

The money requested for safety-related projects would let the district comply with all of Safe Havens’ recommendations, said Laney Burris, the district’s safety and risk management coordinator. In a 63-page report, the firm praised Rock Hill schools for its comprehensive crisis plans but detailed a list of issues that leave the district ill-prepared to react to a crisis such as a mass shooting.

Russell Bentley, a Safe Havens analyst and school security police chief, presented a summary of the report to the school board.

“You were already ahead of the curve,” he said.

But emergency plans should be beefed up and employees should undergo thorough crisis response training, among other fixes, he said.

Safe Havens is helping the district revise its crisis plans to include specific instructions for all employees. The firm already has started teaching a team of Rock Hill school employees to train district staff with videos and simulation exercises. It’s expected to take six to eight months.

“We are enabling you to move forward without us,” Bentley said.

The safety projects Moody proposes include securing entrances at seven elementary schools and three middle schools, adding security cameras and upgrading access-control equipment, among others.

Technology upgrades

About 700 of the district’s laptops and 2,000 desktop computers are so old that they need to be replaced, Technology Director Joel Whitesides told the board.

Whitesides wants to replace each laptop with a Mac Book Pro, at a price of roughly $1,600 each. Upgrading the wireless network would cost about $1 million.

He recommended replacing about 400 laptops this school year and waiting until next school to replace desk top computers and the other laptops.

School board Chairman Jim Vining wasn’t sold on the laptops.

“The MacBook is a great device,” he said. But “it’s 30 percent more (than a PC laptop). What’s the justification?”

Whitesides said that MacBooks fit better with the district’s plans, which include heavy use of products by software and computing giant Apple.

“The operating systems work together,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it. ... Teachers really like it.”

Learning commons

As the district moves ahead with iRock – Moody’s plan to get an iPad to every student to enhance learning – officials propose reconfiguring school libraries.

That means adding digital books, mobile device charging stations and digital research centers.

Schools that have embraced the idea now call their media centers “21st-century learning commons.”

Moody proposed spending $2,046,367 over three years to make the changes at most schools.

Vining expects questions from the board.

“My read is safety will be unanimous,” he said. “But the technology (requests) will be interesting.”

Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072

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