COVINGTON -- The school board will vote next week on some new security measures for Newton schools.
Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews is recommending that the Newton County Board of Education approve the purchases of electronic door systems for schools and carbon monoxide sensors for all schools.
Mathews recommended during last week's monthly work session that Infinity Network Solutions of Macon install door systems at 15 schools -- East Newton, Fairview, Heard-Mixon, Livingston, Mansfield, Middle Ridge, Oak Hill, Porterdale and West Newton elementary schools; the Newton County Theme School at Fiquett; Clements, Cousins, Indian Creek and Veterans Memorial middle schools; and Eastside High School.
Security systems previously were installed at the other seven schools and will be installed at the replacement Newton High School during construction before it opens next school year. The central office also already uses the system.
The estimated cost of the project is $142,175, which will come from operating funds. It was not previously budgeted but money is available, according to Jan Loomans, director of Operational Services.
The cost includes electronic locks on three doors at each school, software to operate the system and 75 keys for each school. The three doors that the system covers will be doors to playgrounds, gyms and faculty parking areas, according to Loomans.
"This system will be placed on outside doors only. We choose three doors initially because we cannot possibly cover every door in the building due to cost," Loomans said Wednesday.
She said the principal at each school will decide which doors they want to cover, and they also may add the system to additional doors by using their discretionary funds or with PTO support.
"In another budget year, we will probably add additional doors, as we learn more about movement patterns in the buildings," Loomans said. "We will probably eventually add a camera, call button and door release to the front doors in a future budget year. We are trying to provide the most security for the available funds right now."
Loomans said that all central office staff who need access to the schools will carry one key and can enter any school as needed during emergencies. The system also can also be programmed to allow school-based staff access during normal school hours but not at night or on weekends.
The door security is a system that is already in place at all schools constructed since 2005, and as new schools are built, NCSS will continue to use the same system.
Mathews said the locks came out of collaborative talks between central office employees and principals after the elementary school shooting in Connecticut last year.
"We're doing everything feasible to protect our students," Mathews said.
He also asked the school board to approve the purchase and installation of carbon monoxide sensors for all schools from Automated Login Corporation of Kennesaw.
The sensors will be linked to the fire and intrusion alarm panel in the front office of each school.
"Maintenance and operations personnel will be notified upon detection of potentially harmful levels," Mathews said in his recommendation. "This will ensure an immediate response to such situations."
He said the system will be consistent with the carbon monoxide detector advisory issued by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in December. School board Chair Abigail Coggin added that there is a piece of state legislation that has been introduced that eventually may require all schools to have carbon monoxide detectors installed; this comes after a school in Atlanta recently was evacuated due to an undetected carbon monoxide leak, hospitalizing some students and staff.
The estimated cost of the sensors for NCSS is $97,500, and also will come from operational funds.
Loomans said Wednesday that neither project was put out for bids.
"We obtained quotes from both of the vendors, but both systems are add-ons to existing equipment," she added.
School board member Eddie Johnson questioned system administration during last week's work session about what else would be cut to purchase this equipment. Loomans said there is no way to explain what exactly would be cut -- projects are prioritized throughout the year, and whatever is left over in April and May, her department uses to complete minor repairs and school improvements like painting projects and routine maintenance over the summer. She said some of that work may have to wait until later to be completed or budgeted elsewhere.
"This is a safety issue," she explained about the importance of the proposed projects.
The school board will vote on the items during its next monthly meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board room at the Newton County BOE building, 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.
Mathews added that if the SPLOST referendum is approved in March, the system also will be able to add a Viewpath S.A.F.E. camera, audio and silent alarm system for every classroom in every school at a cost $3,850,000. The system currently is being piloted in 20 classrooms at Newton High School, improving student behavior and increasing academic rigor.