Muscogee County School Board hears plans for security, outsourcing custodians, conducting public forums

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comApril 8, 2013 

LATER.

That's the acronym that describes the central theme of the security plan Muscogee County School District administrators presented the school board during Monday night's work session.

Lockdown; Alert; Take action; Evacuate if possible; Resist as a last resort.

If the board approves the plan at its April 22 meeting, the recommendations would be implemented over five years. No total cost estimate is in the plan because the funding will be requested in each budget year, said the task force's chairman, MCSD chief administrative assistant Gary Gibson. But he added, "Agencies are willing to do this for us free of charge in the next 90 days."

Those short-term components of the plan include:

• Panic buttons would be installed at three pilot sites.

• The Georgia Emergency Management Agency would conduct safety assessments at each school.

• Safety training would be given to two employees at each school.

• Active shooter/threat plan would be distributed to all schools.

• Columbus State University communication department would produce a training video.

• Public safety officials would conduct a tabletop exercise with principals.

• Practice drills would start in October at the schools.

Board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 praised the task force's work, then emphasized, "This is not the end -- it's just the beginning -- but, from my perspective, time is of the essence."

Interim superintendent John Phillips said in January he was wary of "knee-jerk reactions" in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Mass. But he also wanted the horrific event to motivate MCSD to analyze its security. So he appointed Gibson to lead such a task force.

Three months later, after four formal meetings and other subcommittee meetings, the 21-member task force completed the initial five-year security plan. The plan calls for reviews each year. The task force also recommends another five-year plan be developed during the fiscal year 2019 budgetary process.

The board's major critique of the plan voiced Monday was the recommendation to create in fiscal year 2016 a new position: safety coordinator for an estimated cost of $50,000, which would cover salary, benefits and vehicle.

Board member Pat Hugley Green of District 1 noted MCSD already has a security director, Scott Thomann, and wondered aloud, "How would we repurpose or use what we currently have?"

Gibson responded that approving the plan doesn't necessarily create the new position. The board would decided each year which parts of the plan to implement, he said.

MCSD's current security measures already include:

• Annual safety audits performed at each location.

• Crisis response plans updated annually at each location.

• Cameras and surveillance equipment are being installed at each school.

• Limited door access technology is being installed at each school.

Outsourcing

The board also discussed the administration's recommendation to save a projected $6,282,550 by outsourcing the custodial services at the district's 21 middle and high schools.

Those schools have a combined 147 custodians. If the board approves, 94 of those positions would be outsourced to private companies. MCSD has 32 custodian positions vacant elsewhere in the district, so the board is being asked to fire 62 people, board member Naomi Buckner of District 4 concluded.

Myles Caggins, the district's operations and facilities chief, rephrased that assertion. "Our objective is to reduce involuntary separation," he said. The administration would seek to place them in other vacant positions, he said.

Forums

Varner announced a plan for MCSD to conduct three community forums each year. This first forum will be 6 p.m. May 7 at a location to be announced.

He credited Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson's quarterly forums as setting "a good example to follow."

The forums will be without agendas, just time for school officials to address questions and concerns from residents in a more casual setting away from the time constraints of board meetings.

"There are times when we are frustrated, at least I am, when we aren't able to explain as deeply as we could," he said.

Varner agreed with at-large board member Cathy Williams' request to allow residents to submit written questions if they don't want to speak during the forums.

Personnel

Among this month's MCSD personnel moves:

• Patrick Knopf, director of special education, will become director of research, accountability and assessment, effective May 13. He will replace Carol Bradshaw, who is retiring at the end of April.

• Dawson Elementary School principal Denise Perryman is scheduled to retire in July.MCSD SECURITY TASK FORCE

Here are the 21 members of the Muscogee County School District's security task force:

• Allen Abbott, American Red Cross

• Bobby Cox, Columbus Police Department

• Joanna Culbreth, Eagle Ridge Elementary School

• Harold Floyd, Columbus Museum

• Tracy Fox, Veterans Memorial Middle School

• Gary Gibson, Muscogee County School District

• J.D. Hawk, Columbus Police Department

• Bobby Hecht, Muscogee County School District

• Riley Land, Columbus Emergency Management Division

• Chris Lindsey, Carver High School

• Gabriel Lundeen, Columbus Public Library

• Mike Massey, Muscogee County Sheriff's Office

• Ken O'Shields, Pastoral Institute

• Will Panoke, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

• Ricky Shores, Columbus Fire Department

• Robert Stansell, Muscogee County School District

• Marie Stringfellow, Muscogee County School District

• Scott Thomann, Muscogee County School District

• Virginia Turner, Muscogee County School District

• Rosalyn Tymes, Eddy Middle School

• James Westbrook, West Central Georgia Regional Hospital

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