School security plan debated

$2.7 million approved for extra measures, but board still concerned about meeting goal

February 09, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTER

Anne Arundel County school board members approved $2.7 million for stiffer school security, despite their own concerns about how the money fits into a sweeping $39 million security plan. It is a plan they have been told about for two years, but still have not seen.

At a meeting Wednesday, the board approved $1.2 million - on top of $1.5 million given last summer - for improvements such as cameras at schools, fencing and expanded security at athletic events.

But school board members said the approval for extra funds put them in an awkward situation of not knowing how their spending this year gels with $39 million of security weaknesses highlighted in a 2005 consultant's report.

"You keep talking about this $39 million security plan ... .we have all asked for it over and over again ... .we have yet to see it," school board member Ned Carey said briskly at the school system's security head, Edward Piper.

Piper declined to be interviewed .

Later, Carey said, "The board deserves to see something if we're going to be asked to spend $39 million on something. We have a responsibility to taxpayers that we show we're using money efficiently."

Top school security officials slipped out a side door after the exchange and discussed what parts of the plan they could release and whether the 2-year-old plan is up-to-date enough to reflect the growing security needs of the district.

Gregory V. Nourse, assistant superintendent of business and management, said the larger security plan never reached school board members because it contained information about which schools had the poorest lighting, left doors and windows unlocked and lacked technology for controlling visitors' access to schools and monitoring their whereabouts once they were on school property.

"What you don't want is to release something publicly where everyone sees what your weaknesses are, in case someone out there is planning to hold a school hostage and things like that," Nourse said.

Security concerns heightened after two high-profile incidents in 2005. A teenage girl was shot at Annapolis High School during a football game against Old Mill, and at Glendale Elementary School, a convicted sex offender was caught on school grounds, saying he was there to pick up a student.

Carey said he understands that some school security information can be kept private, but said the school board should still be given an outline of what the district proposes to do to improve school safety.

"Do they want cameras? Do they want fencing? Is all the security technology going to be integrated? We need to know these things," Carey said. "You can't do security piecemeal. We have to see the larger plan."

Nourse said his staff is drafting a security plan that lists the needs of schools without revealing the weaknesses, so that board members can see the school system's long-range plans. What was estimated to cost $39 million in 2005 will "most certainly cost more" now, Nourse said.

This talk of extra spending comes at an inopportune time, with County Executive John R. Leopold issuing school officials a directive to slice their $131 million increase in next year's budget.

But security has been a need that Superintendent Kevin Maxwell and school board members have discussed this year. The hope is to have cameras inside and outside all of the district's 118 schools, but only about 15 schools have them, Nourse said.

This year, the district is looking for another $2.6 million, including more than $1 million for 31 security assistants in schools.

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