Loudoun County school administrators want to hire more security guards, give their current guards more hours, and update security equipment. And they’re asking for a hefty funding increase to do it.
The School Board is two weeks in to scrutinizing the operating budget Superintendent Eric Williams has recommended for next fiscal year. Williams is asking for $1.202 billion, an 8 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s budget. He’s said that additional funding is needed to open three new schools, serve an additional 1,500 students, provide employees raises and, yes, make the more than 90 schools safer.
At a budget work session Thursday, Kevin Lewis, assistant superintendent of Support Services, gave School Board members more details on what equipment and positions they say are needed and what it will cost.
In all, he’s asking for $3.7 million more, a 58.6 percent budget increase, for safety and security services. Some of that money would support the three new school buildings that will open this fall—Academies of Loudoun, Willard Intermediate School, and Goshen Post Elementary—but most of it would help provide more security to the existing schools.
He wants to hire four more security patrols to report to schools on an as-needed basis, increase the hours for existing safety and security specialists, and dedicate about $107,000 to bring on contracted security officers to help at high schools as needed.
Lewis said he’s heard from principals serving on the Principal Safety Taskforce that more help is needed, especially after school hours at the high schools. On any given night, the high schools are hosting a game in the stadium, another game in the gym, a performance in the auditorium, and student clubs meeting throughout the building, Lewis said.
“We have 3,000 to 4,000 events that take place every month at these schools … and we learned about the amount of effort that principals put toward safety and security that take them away from their main job,” he said. “We’re trying to take some of that burden off of school staff.”
The superintendent’s recommended budget would allocate about 200 to 250 hours of additional security coverage per high school. It also calls for upgrading security system radios and alert equipment.
Every high school, plus Douglass School and the crowded Mercer Middle School, are staffed with one security guard. Every high school also is assigned a school resource officer, which is a sworn officer from either the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office or Leesburg Police Department.
“The security officers provide assistance throughout the day with any safety and security needs,” including operating security equipment, he said. “They get to know the students, and they usually work in tandem with the school resource officers.”
A few School Board members questioned the amount of the funding request, and asked whether it would reduce the need for school resource officers, which are funded in the general county budget. Lewis said no. “There are so many things going on on these campuses, so we want to provide extra help there,” he said. “We’ve come at this from a couple of different ways, and we’ll monitor it going forward.”
School Board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) commended Lewis and Williams for taking seriously the need to improve the safety of the schools.
“Educational institutions are identified as soft targets by terrorists, and there are significant security shortfalls in our county,” he said. “Safety and security is the one thing that I think supersedes education in this environment, so I’m happy to see it in the budget.”
Improving safety is also a priority in the School Board’s Capital Improvement Program. The board is asking for $16.4 million to construct security vestibules at 75 school entrances. It will require the renovation of school entrances so that front office staff members can see when people enter and leave school buildings.
“This will provide a better way for visitors to come into our schools and have a more secure process,” Lewis said. “We see the safety of our schools as a priority.”