Budget move advances security upgrades to Montgomery elementary schools -- Gazette.Net


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Elementary schools in Montgomery will see security upgrades sooner than anticipated, in wake of last month's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

The Montgomery County Board of Education approved a resolution Tuesday that will speed up the installation of access control systems at 26 elementary schools that were not scheduled to see the upgrades until next school year. Other than those 26 schools, all but 21 schools have already received the upgrades, and the remaining 21 were set to receive the upgrades within the next six weeks.

By passing the resolution, introduced by board member Patricia B. O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda, the board will ask the County Council to move $364,000 included the School Securities System Project in the Capital Improvements Program for fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2013, so that the installation of the extra 26 systems can be completed by June 30.

Robert B. Hellmuth, director of school safety and security, said Tuesday that the contractor installing the systems believes it can have all of the systems installed by March or April.

The control systems add surveillance cameras at front entrances and one additional entrance that will work with an entry system that provides office staff the ability to remotely grant access from the office.

On Monday, members of the Montgomery County Council wrote board president Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park urging school leaders to accelerate planned security improvements.

Four years ago, the council approved, at the board of education's request, capital funding to install school security systems over several years, with completion scheduled in fiscal 2014, according to a county news release.

In their letter, Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) and Council Education Chairwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5), both of Silver Spring, asked what steps might be necessary so that the work could be accelerated.

They also assured the board that the council stands ready to act promptly if the fiscal 2014 capital funding needs to be approved earlier to increase the pace of this effort and complete the work more quickly.

School Superintendent Joshua P. Starr met with Gazette editors and reporters on Jan. 3, and school security was a major topic of conversation. He expressed confidence in the procedures Montgomery schools have in place to protect schoolchildren.

“I don't know that a massive investment or a significant reallocation of funds would all of a sudden make our schools that much more safer than they already are because of all the measures that are already in place,” Starr said on Jan. 3.

Councilman Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, who sits on the education committee, said security, not budgets, is at issue.

“It's not about a battle over budgets,” he said. “We will make sure we are delivering on our overall core mission for our schools.”

School board members all acknowledged the horror that occurred at Sandy Hook on Dec. 14, when a gunman entered the school and killed 20 children and six staff members.

The board members said the event brought to their attention what could be done to see that the county's schools are as safe as possible.

“Every day we have to say a little prayer for our school other schools and pray there is a guardian angel sitting on our shoulders,” O'Neill said. “Just as you witnessed in the Sandy Hook tragedy, this can happen anywhere and at any time and it just takes one nut.”

jbondeson@gazette.net

Staff Writer Kate S. Alexander contributed to this report.