Milton School District looks to increase its security measures as soon as this September.
In June, the district’s schools were three of 261 statewide to apply for safety grants from the Vt. Department of Public Safety, a $5 million program passed as part of the budget adjustment bill this past legislative session.
All three Milton schools submitted applications, which, if awarded, would help install exterior security cameras on the elementary/middle school building, plus an updated PA system for the middle and high schools.
With hundreds of students killed in school shootings over the last decade, stepping up security can help ease parent, student and faculty members’ anxiety, as well as prepare Milton schools against threats.
The safety and security grant was created “to develop statewide guidelines and best practices concerning school safety and the prevention of school shooting,” according to the bill’s official proposal from the Vermont House of Representatives.
“It’s all about security,” MTSD facilities director Bruce Cheeseman said.
He said the improvements would be a welcome addition to the safety and security work the district has already completed both in and out of the public eye.
“We know that we have to do that, and it has to be in the forefront because of the times we live in now,” he said.
The grants are supported by a $4 million state budget investment, plus an additional million in federal matching funds. Each school in the state could apply for a $25,000 grant, but must provide a 25 percent match for any amount awarded.
Milton had already budgeted the camera and PA system updates for fiscal years 2020 and ’21, but the grants would expedite the process, according to district business manager Don Johnson.
The elementary and middle school building has limited cameras on its exterior. The district has made plans to install cameras on every exterior door to increase security and surveillance capabilities, Cheeseman said. In addition, some cameras will be added to the inside of the building, although those would fall outside of the grant award, Johnson said.
“If we’ve got somebody that’s trying to get into the building, we will be able to get eyes on them,” Cheeseman said. “It will also let us know when the doors aren’t secured, like if somebody’s got a door propped open.”
He said Milton’s school resource officer will have a monitor at their desk where they can watch the camera footage.
“The [SRO] officers that we hired can’t be everywhere at once,” Cheeseman said. “This gives them the opportunity to actually have a bird’s eye view of the entire outside of the building right at their desk.”
Additionally, the cameras will have the capability to record and store multiple days’ worth of footage – a capability the district currently has at the high school.
“They have been very instrumental in helping us solve some questionable things that may have gone on there,” Cheeseman said, including when a maintenance worker’s vehicle was damaged. The perpetrators were identified with the aid of the recorded footage.
“This is going to happen whether or not we do get a grant, because we feel that strongly that it’s something that we must have for the wellbeing of students and faculty,” Cheeseman said.
For the PA system, the district looks to make updates to include speakers in all rooms and increase the locations from which announcements can be made. Currently, they can be made from one of three principals’ offices and broadcast through the entire building. This means an announcement for the middle school is also heard in the elementary school, according to Cheeseman.
“With the new system, we will be able to make announcements from several different locations and actually target the area that we want to make the announcement to,” he said.
The estimated cost of the security updates is $30,000 per project. The district has applied for the three state grants totaling $22,500 each, meaning if they’re awarded, the schools’ out-of-pocket cost is $7,500 each, Johnson said.
With the state’s aid, the project would begin September 1 and take a year to install.
Without aid, Milton schools would adhere to their original plan of installing the new PA systems in the middle and high schools in FY20 using money from the capital repair and replacement reserve fund, and installing the camera system in FY21 with general funds, Johnson said.
“If I was a parent sending a child to Milton either the high school or the elementary, or the middle school, if I knew what was going on internally everyday, I think I would be quite satisfied,” Cheeseman said. “There’s a lot of good things happening over here on Herrick Avenue, and the majority of them are safety-related.”