In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., safety and security took center stage at Wednesday’s Marion School Committee meeting, the first of the new year.
“Everybody in this room is entrusted with the safety in and around the Sippican School. It’s such a profound tragedy that causes us to think differently about the way we see our own schools and families,” said committee chairman Brad Gordon.
The December 14, 2012 shooting has prompted countless schools across the nation to review and discuss safety protocols and security measures around their campuses in an effort to help improve those systems in order to prevent future tragedies.
During her report, Sippican School Principal Evelyn Rivet praised the presence of mind of the teachers in the days following the shooting and their focus on helping the students understand the shooting.
“They came in early the next day and they held meetings discussing the best way to deal with this,” said Rivet. “
The school has also implemented tighter security controls, including individual sign-in and out for guests and a locked classroom door policy. The Marion Fire Department also toured the school offering recommendations for safe hiding places in the event of a similar emergency. According to Rivet’s report, the school will be looking into a new double-lock entry system for the front and rear entrances of Sippican School.
“It’s been a collaborative effort on the parts of all of us,” said Superintendent Doug White. “One of the things we are suggesting is to practice our drills more often, to have involvement from the police department during those drills.”
White said that parents would be notified of safety drills ahead of time so that they may be adequately prepared to discuss the rehearsals further with their children, but specific details may be withheld to increase student safety.
“I’ll be working with aides for a volunteer system to monitor the entrances. We want it to be an open and inviting place but we want to have a better handle on knowing who will be in our building,” said Principal Rivet. “We’ll also be asking to see photo IDs.”
She said that they are looking into further security measures that are both cost efficient and sensible for the school, including special key-fobs that would provide certain faculty members entry to the building as well as colored lanyards to indicate security clearance.
White said that they are continuing to collect thoughts and suggestions from teachers and staff in an effort to bolster current security measures.
Despite the efforts to make district schools safer from such violence, there is always the concern that the environment of the school would be negatively affected by more prominent safety measures.
“We don’t want to turn it into a militaristic setting for the kids to learn in,”Gordon said. “We want to keep it an open place for the kids.”
“As I look at all protocols and all information coming through my office, I feel very comfortable that we’re handling things efficiently and effectively around safety and security,” said White.
In other business, the budget sub-committee briefly met before the quarterly meeting, where the superintendent offered the first drafts of the proposed FY14 budget. This was the first time the Marion School Committee got a chance to see a complete draft of the proposed budget. White said that he has been meeting with all major department heads in the last few months in preparation for budget discussions.
“There are no siginificant increases. I think it provides quality. I think it handles the increases of obligations here. It supports our programs sufficiently,” White said.
The preliminary budget calls for a modest 2.5% increase overall, which was expected during the budget drafting process for FY13. In addition, the new budget reflects three up-coming retirements, which account for about $44,000 of the budget.
The committee is also looking to increase the overall technology budget. Technology director Ryan Mcgee said that he was researching cloud-computing and data storage options for the schools, which would allow for a safer and more secure depository for files.
White also said that some savings could be achieved under the transportation line item. He said they are about to enter the fifth year of a five-year contract with the bus company. He indicated the company planned to drop the rate for the year but did not have a figure on hand.
“We’re just looking to finalize that number. We’re verifying that as we speak,” said White.
The committee will review the specifics of the budget over the coming weeks to help prepare the final draft, due for approval by the members in March.
The committee also heard from Sippican School music director, Hannah Moore, who addressed the group with a petition to consider replacing the sound system in the school’s multi-purpose room.
“We have one of the finest multi-purpose rooms in the state,” Moore said, explaining that the existing system is inefficient, antiquated, and difficult to use.
She has been collecting prospective bids from audio system contractors and said the project could be funded with town money or by private donation.
The next meeting of the Marion School Committee will be on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, at 6:30 pm at the Town Hall.
By Eric Tripoli