Community, officials talk about feedback on school security

12:52 AM, Mar 7, 2013   |    comments
Dr. Jim McIntyre at Wednesday night's Board of Education meeting
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Wednesday night, the Knox County Board of Education continued taking steps to add new security measures in schools.

The Board approved an amended audit plan, offered by the Public Building Authority CEO Doug Smith. That plan calls for and outside contract audit of security alarm systems, video camera systems and key-less entry systems installed by the contractor PSCD at approximately five to six schools

In another vote, the board approved a supplemental appropriation of $218,782 for the current fiscal year. That funding will allow the school district to begin the recruiting, hiring, and training of the 58 armed officers Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre wants to have in schools at the start of next school year.

During that meeting, board members talked about the feedback they're getting from the community.

"I started asking a lot of people, friends, people in my district, what their thoughts were on some of these ideas as well," said Doug Harris. "I'm finding out there's a large majority of people that feel like we need to have an armed security guard at every school."

"All the emails, phone calls that I've received have been in support of this," said another board member, Thomas Deakins.

Despite that support by phone and online, community turnout at school security meetings has been low when compared to other controversial education discussions. Tuesday night, the district hosted a security forum which included the Knoxville police chief and Knox County sheriff. Aside from school staff, local politicians and members of the media, only a few dozen community members attended.

In comparison, last year's county budget vote drew large crowds when school and county leaders debated the amount of school funding.

Board members say they aren't quite sure why some issues draw more people than others.

"They've given their feedback via email or phone calls to us but, quite frankly, I don't know," Deakins said. "I don't know why a lot of people don't show up. Maybe because there wasn't a 'monetary specific' amount put on it, but you know, the people that were there [Tuesday] night, were vocal."

Harris says he's learned to seek feedback from the community, instead of wait for it.

"I've definitely come to the conclusion that people do not like coming out to meetings. That's why I think it's incumbent upon me to really not wait for emails to come in, but to actively be engaging and asking people," he said.

Sandra Rowcliffe is the president of the Knox County Council of the PTA. However, speaking as a parent and not for her organization, she says it's difficult for families to make time for meetings.

"I think its hard for parents, in between their parenting and taxi service duties and running kids here and there, to think outside of what is good for their school," she said. "As long as a parent feels good about their school and the doors their child is walking into, I think you're going to find it's way too big [of] a picture to think about all the other schools in Knox County."

Rowcliffe attended Tuesday night's security forum, and says the report law enforcement officials gave seems to indicate a safe school environment. While she believes student safety is the top priority in schools, Rowcliffe also says the likelihood of a Sandy-Hook-like situation happening here is slim.

"I would love to have funding so that we have an armed guard, and key-less entry and vestibule, and fencing around every school. If we have the funding for that, I think we have the funding for a technological device in every child's hand, too," she said.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett also weighed in on the public's reaction to recent security discussions.

"I think it's ultimately frustration for the public," said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. "I'm tired of it, I'm tired of it all. Just fix it."

The mayor has been a vocal critic of the school district's handling of security issues in recent weeks.

Rowcliffe says, for most of the top "players," the discussion has simply become too political.

"I do get the feeling that we have a Board of Education and a Superintendent who are beating their heads against a wall that is the mayor and the County Commission," she said. "And I feel like it's being played out in a way that I'm not really sure is productive. We've spent a lot of time reading articles about who's done what and who hasn't done what, and who ought to be doing this and who ought to be doing that."

She adds, "I would just hope this community can, at some point, get past the political banter that's going back and forth and start really thinking about what's good for our kids, what's good for our students in our public school system."

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