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CMS Board Asks County For $34 Million In Security Upgrades

Charlotte Mecklenburg School officials have a $34 million capital plan to improve security at all of the district’s schools.  It includes cameras and 8 foot tall chain-link fences on all campuses.  But the plan still requires buy-in from the county commission. 

The idea is to limit the number of entry points into schools.  Think about high schools like Myers Park and West Mecklenburg that have sprawling campuses reminiscent of small colleges.  CMS Chief Operating Officer Millard House says it’s too easy for intruders to get inside.  That’s where the 8 foot high fences come in.  

“We don’t believe that we can completely eradicate entry onto a campus, but we think we can minimize it significantly,” says House.     

He estimates on average it will take about half a mile of black-vinyl coated chain-link fencing on each campus to do the job.  Most of that will be around mobile classrooms. That comes out to a price tag of $13 million.  The plan also includes installing cameras in elementary and middle schools.  They’re already in high schools.  That’s another $16 million. 

To make it easier for schools to screen visitors, the plan calls for installing buzzer systems on doors complete with an intercom and video camera and giving schools software that can do instant background checks.

“How do we balance this implementation of one-point electronic entry and fences with our message of engagement?” asked school board member Ericka Ellis Stewart. 

House responded they’ll look at what’s right for each individual school. 

“We have to essentially find that sweet spot.  What’s secure, or as secure as we can make it, along with what feels good as well to the community,” said House. 

The CMS school board backed the plan.  But it still needs the approval of county commissioners, since the $34 million would come from money leftover in the 2007 bond package. 

And they weren’t as sold on the plan.  Matthew Ridenhour worried fences would prevent kids from leaving school quickly in an emergency.  And chairwoman Pat Cotham questioned whether all that security could get in the way of kids’ learning.  

“I was concerned about how a child is going to respond to an environment where there’s a lot of fences, a lot of cameras.  I mean, children are sensitive to things.  They can be scared,” said Cotham.   

County Commissioners will vote on whether to fund the plan March 19th.  CMS officials are also discussing placing police officers in all elementary schools.  They’re already in middle and high schools.  But that would be decided on later.