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School, safety officials consider new security audit

11:53 PM, Mar 1, 2013   |    comments
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After weeks of going back and forth in the media, top Knox County school and safety officials sat down with local politicians to talk about how to make our schools safer.

School Board Chair Karen Carson called and led the meeting, but the man who did much of the talking Friday afternoon was Public Building Authority C.E.O Dale Smith.

Smith seemed to surprise some at the table by presenting a new plan to independently audit a random selection of five to six district schools.

The plan calls for a rapid response; Smith says with swift approval they could get results back in six to eight weeks.

The scope of the audit, according to a hand out, is to "determine whether or not installed security system components.... are installed and working to industry standards...."

That's distinct, says Carson, from the scope of the audit the board already commissioned from a company called Simplex Grinnell.

McIntyre and Carson say that review is intended simply to determine the functionality of the equipment they're already using.

But McIntyre says he believes the newly proposed audit would not only compare their results to industry standards, but determine whether the district got the level and scope of performance promised by the contractor.

Smith says his proposal would also lay to rest concerns about any conflict of interest that could arise out of the Simplex Grinnell review.

School representatives say the company already provides the monitoring service for the schools' alarm systems.

That prompted Knox County Mayor Tim  Burchett to question how a company can be expected to faithfully audit itself.

There were also concerns that since the company would be permitted to bid on work to repair the problems they uncover, their results could be flawed.

Smith proposes a variety of representatives form a panel to select the company to perform the independent review.

He proposes no firms that currently or recently worked for the school district be permitted to bid on the $12,000-$15,000 contract.

The proposal suggests each of the half dozen schools receive no more than 24 hours notice of the inspection and that they all be examined over the course of two to three weekends.

McIntyre and Carson say they need to discuss the proposal with the board on Monday.

But both indicated they were open to the suggestion.

"I'm open to any ideas that are going to help us to assure our stake holders and public that we are doing what we can to keep our kids safe," said McIntyre.

Burchett says he would approve the funding.

The first hour of the meeting focused on establishing a timeline of who knew what when in regards to school security.

McIntyre recounted vague recollections from a lunch with Smith in 2009 when school security was brought up. McIntyre says he was left with in the impression that the predominant issue was that the contractor, PSCD, hadn't supplied all of the cameras and alarms in their contract.

He says they sent someone out to inspect, but McIntyre admitted he failed to follow up.

"I'll take responsibility," said McIntyre, "I didn't circle back with Dale on that."

Carson and McIntyre says there is no written report from that 2009 review.

Fast forward three years, and PBA was filing a lawsuit against the contractor.

Carson asked Smith why that move took so long. He indicted PBA was waiting to see if there were deficiencies in schools beyond Hardin Valley Academy and Powell Middle School to be included in the lawsuit.

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