School security funds to address lockdown needs
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A handful of Alaska's schools have asked for assistance in order to better prepare for an emergency situation, according to Education Commissioner Mike Hanley.
In light of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., many districts have expressed concerns regarding security in Alaska's schools.
Specifically, Hanley said districts wanted to address the security of exterior and classroom doors in the event of a lockdown. Some schools also inquired about buying security cameras to monitor entrances.
The Legislature allocated $21 million in the state's capital budget to help beef up security, fix safety hazards and — for districts with under 4,500 students — address energy costs.
Districts will be given funds based on a formula that relies on their student count.
The Department of Education and Early development said it will clearly outline the Legislature's intent when the funds are distributed, according to Deputy Education Commissioner Les Morris. In an email to The Associated Press, Morris said the department intends to provide technical assistance to the districts, but will let the districts determine how the money will be used.
The definition of safety was left relatively vague in order to give schools more freedom.
"Safety is not necessarily the same thing as security" Hanley said, adding that the funds could go to removing old equipment or creating more organized drop-off lanes for picking up and dropping off children.
House Finance co-chair Bill Stoltze said he viewed the additional money as a form of indirect aid for schools — which has been a common theme for the 2013 Legislative session. If a district was already budgeting for these costs, they could then use the money from the capital budget and direct more resources toward other expenditures.
The Legislature did not pass an overarching education package this year. Members of the House and Senate Majority caucuses said that education funding will be discussed during the interim period.
The Anchorage School District, the state's largest, has a list of six safety and security projects, but are only going forward with one — making sure that every classroom has doors that lock from the inside.
Anchorage School Board member Natasha von Imhof said the district has already set aside a portion of its budget for the next fiscal year to install locks in the classrooms.
Von Imhof is unsure whether the money from the capital budget will be used to pay for the lock project — and free up those already-allocated funds — or finance another one of the five projects. She noted that it's too early to speculate how the money will be used when they do not know how much they are getting or what parameters are surrounding the funds.
Unalaska City School District Board President Tammy Fowler Pound said her district didn't budget for security or safety projects next year, but she hopes Unalaska's two school buildings could use the money from the capital budget to help address the rising costs of energy. More than 410 students attend school in Unalaska, which is about 800 miles southeast of Anchorage, on Unalaska Island in the Aleutian chain.
"What the funding will do is help pay for utilities," Pound said. "That's a big deal for small districts."