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Rockville Centre schools upgrade security with state funds

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The Rockville Centre School District is in the midst of upgrading and replacing its security systems, thanks to the money allocated from the New York State Smart Schools Bond Act. The act, approved in 2014, authorized the distribution of $2 billion to school districts around New York State. Of that $2 billion, Rockville Centre received $941,980.

“It was a conversation we were figuring out,” said John O’Shea, Board of Education president, regarding the need for increased safety measures. “It was, ‘What are we going to do to improve the security in the schools?’ And then this came up and it just became advantageous for us to use this money towards some of those goals.”

So far, the school district has used $390,541 of the allocated funds to implement updated safety measures, including new servers for security cameras to increase storage, building access control, such as video intercoms and updated swipe card readers, a technology firewall for the computer system and a license plate reader. All of these measures have been implemented at every school in the district, excluding the license plate reader, which is only at the high school.

These updates restrict and vet those who enter and exit the school buildings during the day. Superintendent Dr. William Johnson explained that students are compliant with these changes for the sake of safety.

“Kids live in a different world than we grew up in,” Johnson said. “They worry about these things. What we need to do is take the worry away. I think they’re more than willing to live with the slight inconvenience in order to ensure that they feel safe when they come to school.”

Although the state legislation was passed in 2014, districts’ investment plans were not approved immediately for Smart Schools Bond funding. The state lacks the volume of staff to approve applications in a timely fashion, and therefore, it took longer than anticipated to implement the updates, according to O’Shea. “It’s hit or miss with the state,” O’Shea explained. “They don’t follow through on everything like they should.”

Assistant Superintendent Robert Bartels explained the yearlong interval between Rockville Centre’s application and the approval of the plan.

“We were stuck in limbo for about a year with [the state] because they basically allocated the money, but then they didn’t allocate any staff to review and approve the plans,” Bartels said. “So we got stuck for over a year. I don’t think the state is taking it seriously at all.”

In the 2019-20 school year, Rockville Centre will apply to use the remaining funds in the district’s allocation. Bartels anticipates it will be used for additional security measures, but it has not yet been decided.

Rockville Centre has been a leader in implementing increased safety measures, according to Bartels. However, the district is currently limited because the act allows for a set amount of money, given once. In the future, schools may have to look to other sources for security funding.

“To expand and continue to do this, it needs more money on an ongoing basis,” Bartels explained. “The smart schools is a one time funding source, but as time goes on, we will need replacements and maintenance. Those are going to be ongoing costs that have to come out of the regular general fund budget.”

Many of the significant security updates being made are not obvious to students or parents. O’Shea noted that there are additions such as the anterooms at the entrances of the schools that are more apparent to people entering the building, as well as important measures that may not be as pronounced.

“The cameras, the software, the upgrade in the servers — that’s behind the scenes,” he said. “So people sometimes don’t appreciate that as much as they should.”

Although there are difficulties, the district administration views these funds as a means to enforce and ensure safety in the schools.

“We hope that this puts in place procedures and protocols to safeguard the kids and the parents and the staff from any intruders that could come in seeking to do harm,” said Bartels.