Though the tragedy of Uvalde High School in Texas on May 24 was not brought up until the end of her talk, Baldwin County School Superintendent Dr. Noris Price spent time at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting giving an overview of the school district’s safety measures. This included what polices are currently in place, what could be installed in the future, and was followed by a presentation from a security company based out of Atlanta that utilizes K9 units.
“We meet annually with our local law enforcement agencies and EMS to talk about safety and security,” said Price. “They also do a risk assessment at all of our schools.”
She said GEMA is also involved in the assessment.
She said they are looking into such ideas as small walkie-talkies for all teachers as a quick means of communication during an emergency. These could be purchased through federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) or ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds.
The Early Learning Center, Lakeview Primary, Midway Hills Primary and Midway Hills Academy have what Price called panic buttons as part of an audio enhancement system. These are on lapel microphones, and she wants to make sure all teachers are wearing that so that if there is an emergency and they press the button, cameras in the classroom are activated and the front office is notified.
“We are short a couple of resource officers,” said Price, “simply because the sheriff’s department and the Milledgeville Police Department are also short on staff.”
Otherwise, the superintendent listed several security measures already in place.
There are access card readers and cameras at both the front and back entrances of each school. There is a required mesh backpack for each student, and Price said at the elementary schools they ask the teachers to check the backpacks every morning. Cameras are in the hallways and outside each school, the middle and high school have metal detectors and there is restricted visitor access. All visitors must check in at the main office, which is the single point of visitor entry and exit.
Price said they have not had active shooter training in three years but will soon. She also said they are working on the school system’s bullying policy to see if it needs updating. She said the new student code of conduct would normally be presented to the board for approval in June, but it is still under thorough review and should be presented in July.
“Since the incident in Uvalde, Texas, our hearts are broken,” said Price. “To have 19 children and two teachers be killed is a horrible tragedy. We never want that to happen anywhere. So in addition to the safety measures we have, we are looking at additional measures.”
Ashley Marratt, president of Interquest Detection Canines of Georgia, spoke to the board about their services. The business has been around for 18 years, has three offices across the country and has serviced more than 10,000 schools.
She congratulated the Baldwin school board on the positive achievements of the district.
“This is about creating a positive environment,” she said. “We are seeing quite a few trends that are very disturbing in our schools. I know you are seeing many of the trends. Across the country we are seeing these trends.”
The trends include guns in schools, and she said sometimes that’s a frightened student bringing the firearm for personal protection; vaping, both nicotine and THC, and while some might think it’s more discreet, it’s not so for the K9, said Marratt; monitoring parking areas, medication abuse and designer drugs.
“Interquest Canine has developed a program that combines education and K9 deterrence,” said Marratt. “We have cross trained our dogs in illegal narcotics … alcoholic beverages. Gunpowder allows our K9s to find firearms, any type of ammunition.
“We create an environment where the students are allowed to make a choice. They know that dog is helping keep them safe. If they make a poor choice, we will find it, address it and report it.”
The school’s administration then takes over.
“We want to keep every person in the system safe … We don’t want to create a system where we’re out to get you,” said Marratt. “It’s not us vs. them. Every single one of you is responsible for safety in your schools. We all have to do it together.”
On the business side, Marratt said it would up to the Baldwin District how many visits Interquest would make in a year, and principals would decide what are no-visit days. Otherwise, the visits are random and unannounced. She said they will also do assembly gatherings to explain to students their purpose.
Price said her colleagues had positive things to say about Interquest. She said there will be discussions with the principals to see if they all want to move forward and employ Interquest’s services.
As part of the consent agenda, the Board of Education approved the FY23 budget Tuesday. The board held the two required public hearings, and the FY23 budget is slightly more than $44,792,000.
Dr. Price said they did not have the millage rate yet set by the county, but they would move forward and make any adjustments at a later time.
Chief Financial Officer Samantha Jenkins said they are 92 percent through the fiscal year and collected 92.6 percent of the budgeted revenue and expended 79 percent of budgeted expenditures. The fund equity in the general account is $27,414,000.
ESPLOST money collected in May was more than $798,000, $40,000 more than May of 2021. The average monthly collections for the current fiscal year is $760,895 (the average for FY16 was $529,292).
The spending continued to upgrade the district schools, including the serving lines at Lakeview Primary, Midway Hills Academy, Midway Hills Primary and Oak Hill Middle School. The board approved $312,472 for the serving lines to replace some that are more than 20 years old and in bad shape, according to nutrition director Susan Nelson. She said they are eligible for modification money from the state of Georgia, about $20,000 per school.
School hours will remain the same in 2022-23 (7:20 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. for the Early Learning Center, 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. for the elementary schools and 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. for the Oak Hill Middle and Baldwin High).
“We did talk about possibly adjusting the middle and high school with our transportation department,” said Dr. Price. “(Transportation director Eric) Little said because he has been very successful in recruiting bus drivers that there was no need to make adjustments. He can get the students to their school at the designated time.”
Little spoke to the board about school buses in regard to purchasing six buses from Peach State Truck Centers/Thomas Built Buses for $703.936. He said the Georgia Department of Education informed him the district would be reimbursed $528,660 towards the purchase of six buses (four for 78 passengers and two for 72 passengers). This purchase is through a Georgia Department of Administrative Services State contract.
The board added this purchase to the consent agenda during the work session, and the agenda was approved during the regular meeting.