Pasco Schools plan to beef up security

Pasco County Schools is seeking state approval of a plan that calls for adding security cameras in schools and changing locks on doors at schools throughout the district.

The district wants the state to approve the plan, so it can use about $2 million in state money to pay for the security improvements.

The security upgrade aims to comply with a mandate that school districts across the state assess the safety of their schools and produce a plan to improve it. That requirement came in response to the Valentine’s Day shooting spree that left 17 dead and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Christopher Stowe, director of safety and security for Pasco County Schools, recently outlined the district’s proposed plan to upgrade security at schools throughout the district. (B.C. Manion)

Pasco County Schools worked with law enforcement officials from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the New Port Richey, Zephyrhills and Dade City police departments in assessing their school campuses, according to Assistant Superintendent Betsy Kuhn.

After completing those assessments, the district identified themes it could address using the state grant money, said Christopher Stowe, the school district’s director of safety and security.

It decided to use the state money to “raise the security of all schools in the county, rather than kind of pinpoint one or two.

“We want to make equitable use of the funds that we’re going to be getting with the grants, to make sure all of our schools are going to be increasing their security,” Stowe said.

Much of the work focused on determining how the district could improve security using existing work orders, Stowe added, noting improvements, such as repairing or trimming landscaping to improve sight lines on campuses, can be achieved by district staff.

The grant money would be used to ensure that all Pasco County Schools have security cameras and that door locks will be changed so that teachers will not need to go outside of their classroom to lock the door.

Equipping the schools with security cameras will cost more than $800,000.

The new locks ensure that doors are locked at all times. People can leave a room without a key, but can’t enter without a key, unless someone lets them in.

It will cost about $1.2 million to change the locks on 3,000 doors.

During a presentation on the plan before the Pasco County School Board last week, Superintendent Kurt Browning noted: “I want to make sure that it’s clear that the funds that are being discussed here are funds that have been specifically appropriated for this purpose.

“These are not funds that could be used for raises. These are not funds that can be used for other things,” Browning said.

School board member Allen Altman thanked local law enforcement officials for their help on the effort to assess the district’s schools and share their expertise.

“In talking to other school districts around the state, they do not have the level of cooperation that we have had, and they are struggling to get this done,” he said.

“The fact that this has been a true team effort, and that they have communicated and worked together has been extraordinary — when you talk to other people around the state,” Altman observed.

He also noted: “It does make parents and staff feel better to know that everybody is on the same page and working together, and we don’t have the turf battles that have gone on in other places in the state.”

School board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong also expressed her appreciation to local law enforcement agencies for their help.

“We very much want to keep that line of communication open,” Armstrong said.

No timetable has been established for the security improvements, Kuhn said. The district must await approval of state grant money for its plan before proceeding to have the work done.

Published October 10, 2018

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