Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane Public Schools upgrades security at many facilities

SPS has spent $14 million on safety steps since ’03

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Spokane Public Schools has installed new, single-point-of-entry security doors at main entrances of nine schools and has retrofitted locks on hundreds of classroom doors, enabling teachers to lock doors from inside the classroom. 

The district has spent more than $14 million on security since 2003 on lockdown systems, security cameras, access card readers and other security measures to protect students, teachers, and staff from potential threats of violence, says Greg Brown, its director of capital projects and planning. 

Security upgrades have been performed with funding provided by the 2003 and 2009 voter-approved bonds.

During the past year, the district has spent about $1.5 million on just changing locking mechanisms in older schools to enable teachers or staff to lock classroom doors from the inside, says Brown.

“Obviously you don’t want a teacher to have to go outside the classroom to have to lock the door if there’s a threat in the hallway,” Brown says. The district has changed locks in several older buildings and will continue to work on the project during the year until all classrooms have the new locks.

Jason Conley, director of safety, security and transportation for the district, says new automated systems for portable classrooms, of which there are about 80 districtwide, also have been installed, which enable the school office to electronically lock portable classrooms in the event of a schoolwide lockdown. 

Portables at Spokane elementary schools previously hadn’t been connected to the central lockdown system, Conley says. The central lockdown system connects each classroom to its own school main office, as well as to district offices in downtown Spokane.

Conley says the district also is piloting different security vestibules, depending on a building’s architecture. The vestibules consist of an interior door within the entrance to the school that prohibits anyone from entering the school without first talking with staff via a camera speaker phone, or some other technology. Some schools also have a nearby door that takes visitors directly into the school office area without providing direct access to the school. 

Schools in the district currently are equipped with an automatic lockdown feature, which can be activated from the main office or by way of an intranet if a threat is imminent, Conley says. 

All sites also are equipped with exterior card reader access devices for authorized entry to school and support facilities via card access badge readers. 

Spokane-based Camtek Inc. performed the majority of work on the security projects, Conley says. 

“Every school office will have monitors attached to cameras in four different areas of the school, either outside or inside,” he says. “School administrators will choose which areas of the school to appear on the monitors.” 

SPS employs 14 school resource officers who are fully-commissioned peace officers or reserve Spokane Police Department officers. Six of those are assigned to individual high schools and work only during the school year. The remaining officers work year-round. SPS officers drive patrol cars with traffic control lighting and a public address system, Brown says. The vehicles also have mounted laptop computers with mobile Internet capability. 

When school isn’t in session, Conley says the district employs five noncommissioned security response specialists--in addition to the other school resource officers—who patrol school properties to prevent vandalism and trespassing. 

“Vandalism is the lowest rate it’s been since 1993,” he says, adding that cameras have reduced the number of patrols. SPS schools are equipped with more than 1,400 cameras in building interiors and exteriors. 

Included in the dollar amount for security are expenses related to firearms for resource officers. 

In April 2013, the district did a safety audit in response to the Sandy Hook shootings, the Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. As a result of the audit, the SPS board voted to authorize arming resource officers to enhance security. 

The plan at that time was to arm officers starting in January 2014 following training with the SPD. However, the Spokane Education Association doesn’t require officers to undergo psychological testing and a polygraph, which is required by state law for anyone carrying a firearm. Officers also want additional pay for the added risk and responsibility of wearing a weapon. The district and the SEA were negotiating the issues at the end of the last school year, and Conley says although negotiations stalled over the summer, both sides are discussing future bargaining dates. 

 The SEA represents more than 3,000 teachers and support staff in the district. 

Conley says the district has purchased one firearm, at about $500, for one SPS administrative resource officer who isn’t represented by the SEA. The district just purchased an extra insurance policy costing about $20,000 to insure it for resource officers who carry firearms, he says. 

“We had to buy a supplemental policy. It allows us to add additional officers with no further expense in the future,” he says.  

Conley says the cost to the district should all 14 school resource officers start to carry firearms is a guess since the question of added pay hasn’t been settled and he so far hasn’t been able to address training-related expenses. 

“It’s hard to know what training costs will be … and there is no conclusion to bargaining so we can’t tell whether it will cost any more money for salaries or not. Those are two unknowns,” he says.

“We bargained for six months last year on and off and I was hoping we would get it done,” he adds.

Judith  Spitzer
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Reporter Judith Spitzer covers technology, mining, agriculture, and wood products for the Journal. A vintage-obsessed antique collector in her off hours, Judith worked as a journalist in Colorado and Oregon before joining the Journal.

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