Rochester Community Schools will spend $179,000 to increase security in 19 buildings across the school district.
And school leaders say the security enhancements, approved earlier this week, are only the start of a long-term discussion on school safety in the district.
"This is the beginning of a significant amount of investment in security," Rochester's Assistant Superintendent of Business Dan Romzek told Board of Education members on Monday night.
The changes are under way less than two months after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut forced school communities to rethink security measures.
Here's a look at what's changing in Rochester — and how the changes compare with what's happening in other Oakland County school districts.
Sandy Hook aftermath
Immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting happened in December, schools across Rochester locked their front doors. Parents volunteered in shifts to monitor the main entrances at the elementary and middle schools; when no one was available to stand guard at the front door, visitors were directed to call the office and ask the building secretary to let them in.
In January, schools were allocated money to pay for the front door to be monitored for three hours each day; again, volunteers filled in the gaps.
At the three high schools, Burr Security continued to monitor the front doors, as was the practice before December. Access through the other doors at the high schools is given through a card-reader system.
In the meantime, the district's Critical Incidence Team, which includes parents, teachers and principals, met to study more permanent enhanced security options.
New safety systems
Acting on the Critical Incidence Team's recommendation, the Board of Education approved the funding for all elementary and middle schools in Rochester, as well as the two alternative high schools, to be equipped with video surveillance intercom systems on the main entries, as well as card-reader systems on all other doors.
The buzzer systems consist of a small intercom and wide-angle lens camera that will be mounted on the exterior door of the buildings. Inside the buildings, a small color monitor will show school employees what's going on outside. The employee inside will be able to communicate with the visitor standing outside; a button on the monitor will unlock the door for the visitor.
The buzzer system will cost the district $27,080.
The card-reader security system will be installed on all of the other building doors: that's 84 doors in 19 schools. Teachers and other school employees will receive cards that will unlock the doors. Parents of children in after-school programs may eventually be given access cards, too.
The card-reader system will cost the district $135,777.
Security Designs will install both systems. The Livonia firm has worked with the district in the past and was the low bidder on both projects. In addition to the costs of both systems, the board approved an additional $16,285 in contingency funding to allow for flexibility during the installation process.
"The installation of this equipment will significantly enhance the security throughout the school district, enhancing many of the concerns expressed by staff, parents and community members in recent months," stated Romzek in a memo to board members about the purchase.
The district had earlier this year earmarked $125,000 for security upgrades. The difference between what was budgeted and what was approved this week will come from the general fund.
Both systems will hopefully be installed by the time students return from spring break in April, Romzek said.
Interim Superintendent Tresa Zumsteg echoed Romzek's sentiments about the ongoing process of enhancing school security.
"This is a short-term solution, but it's really a long-term discussion," Zumsteg said. "This is not done by any means; this is just what needs to be done right now."
What other districts are doing
Rochester is not alone in honing in on school security. Here's a look at what other school districts in Oakland County have done to address safety:
- As part of a school bond, Ferndale Schools were already in the process of updating security; front-door buzzer systems are being installed at all schools.
- In Birmingham, school leaders recently presented a Safe Schools report to the Board of Education and the community and will vote on recommendations — including a front-door buzzer system in each school — later this month.
- In Bloomfield Hills, the school district is working with the township police department to create a new school security officer position that will oversee the improvement of security management and communications in the district.
What do you think about the security improvements in Rochester? Start the conversation in the comments.