• 52°

School system ramping up safety, security with help from quarter-cent sales tax

The quarter-cent sales tax that was narrowly approved during last November’s election is already helping to improve school safety, even though Stanly County Schools has not received any money yet.

The tax, which passed with 50.86 percent of the vote, has allowed the school system to add Digital Watchdog security cameras to all of the elementary schools, something already in place at the middle and high schools.

“Obviously we can’t have enough cameras,” said Todd Bowers, Stanly County Schools director of facilities and maintenance.

SCS has access to cameras at every school in the county. SCS can watch live footage and replay past video.

Elementary schools can have up to 16 security cameras while middle and high schools have considerably more, Bowers said.

It costs about $4,000 for new cameras at each elementary school, Bowers said. The elementary schools will be getting additional cameras in the future.

East Albemarle Elementary School, for instance, recently received six security cameras to go with the four it already had.

The cameras are strategically placed throughout the school.

The administration has access to camera footage on any of their digital devices.

A security camera at East Albemarle Elementary. (Photo credit: Jonathan Brooks)

Even if Principal Jonathan Brooks is away from school, he can access any of the security cameras on his phone.

Middle and high schools have received additional security cameras. It costs around $20,000 for camera in each middle school and about $25,000 for the security cameras in each high school, Bowers said. The school system also converted the high school analog cameras to digital cameras.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff James is hoping to be able to allow 911 dispatchers to be hooked into school security cameras in case a crisis occurs. Law enforcement already has access to the school’s security cameras.

“And so if somebody calls from Richfield Elementary or one of the other schools and says ‘active shooter,’ then you (dispatcher) can actually pull up the camera from that school and talk to the officer en route, telling them where in the school the shooter is located,” James said.

“Every second you can shave off is a life that’s saved,” James added.

Each school system in the state is required to put all of their school’s floor plans on a secure website, which law enforcement can access.

SCS has also installed LobbyGuard, a visitor identification system, in every school’s main office.

LobbyGuard notes a visitor’s information, prints a label for them and scans their driver’s license to make sure they are allowed on campus. Registered sex offenders or those banned by Stanly County Schools would be identified through the system.

The total cost of LobbyGuard for the schools was roughly $50,000, Bowers said.

East Albemarle received LobbyGuard right before spring break.

“It’s another tool to increase school safety,” Brooks said. “I support anything we can do to increase the safety and security of our staff and students.”

The school system doesn’t expect to see any money from the sales tax until July, James said.

Because the school system has already paid to install the security cameras and LobbyGuard, it will take the money out of the sales tax when it becomes available.

Several other quarter-cent sales taxes in the past have failed, but this tax passed because it represented increased safety for students, James said.

“People aren’t going to turn down safety,” he said.

Safety has been a paramount issue for James due to the increased rate of school shootings over the last several years — including the UNC Charlotte shooting Tuesday evening that left two students dead and injured others.

In the 2017-2018 school year, threats of violence increased 62 percent from the year before, according to a study conducted by the Educator’s School Safety Network.

The same study ranked North Carolina ninth in the nation in the probability to experience mass violence.

“The more threats and/or incidents a state experienced, the higher their score in the number categories,” the study explained.

As the school system was putting together its facility’s needs, “it was apparent we had some safety issues,” James said.

He added the schools were built in a time when there were zero to no safety threats.

“It’s not if, but when,” he said, regarding school shootings.

One of the main priorities for the system is creating security vestibules (or secondary doors) in each school, similar to what exists in other counties like Cabarrus.

The security vestibule will be another form of protection for the students.

A secondary wall is in place at Bethel Elementary in Cabarrus County. (Photo credit: Todd Bowers)

Too often, when people get buzzed into the schools, they can forgo the main office and go unimpeded to other parts of the schools, James said.

With this added layer of security, “You’ll be buzzed into a foyer-type area which will get you into the office and the office will then clear you to enter the school” through the secondary set of doors, Bowers said.

But this will take some time, because not every main office is located in close proximity to the main entrance.

The school system also wants to build fencing separating Locust Elementary from N.C. Highway 24-27 to better protect the students.

“The safety of our students in all phases of the education day is our top priority,” said Locust Elementary principal David Grice. “We are very appreciative of the voters in Stanly County that approved of the quarter-cent sales tax that is allowing this safety measure to become a reality.”

The timeframe for many of these projects is still uncertain.

“We don’t know yet what kind of money to expect on a quarterly basis,” Bowers said.

How quickly the school system receives the money will determine the timeframe, he added.

“I like the new security measures we have in place that allow us to do our jobs in a safe, secure environment,” Brooks said. “I’m excited about the future plans and initiatives that the district has to continue to improve the safety of our staff and students.”

Contact Chris Miller at 704-982-2122.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

email author More by Chris