One-third of millage increase devoted to school safety
Citizens Committee consensus:
Make schools safer as a top priority of millage proposal
After many volunteers hours already given in intensive thought and research, a group of volunteer citizens, educators and students now have until May 22 to urge voters to vote “yes”?to a proposal to increase a millage devoted to Fort Smith Public Schools.
About one-third of millage revenues will be used to increase safety in schools, a goal agreed upon by everyone who helped develop, first, a five-year vision for the school district’s future and, then, a specific proposal to meet needs and goals chosen in another round of decision-making.
“I was very pleased with the overall process and the decision-making format, all the way back to the beginning of the strategic planning process in August,” said Jason Green, who volunteered to lead, with Alex Sanchez, a Citizens Committee that boiled down the detailed recommendation to the Fort Smith Board of Education to move forward with greatest need projects.
“It was definitely a tough process,” Green said of the more than 900 hours spent by the Citizens?Committee in formulating its list, “but I think it was well planned and executed and positioned us to make a good recommendation.”
Safety and security of all schools remained a priority throughout, resulting in a proposed budget tied to the action plan. In-person site visits and consultation with school staff in charge of buildings and security led to a recommendation to make changes to all remaining open classrooms in Barling, Cook, Morrison and Woods elementary schools. Renovations should be made to create secure, enclosed classrooms, the plan says.
Likewise, the committee identified Darby and Ramsey junior highs for needed changes, to enclose outdoor locker areas and create secure entryways so people may only enter through adult-supervised areas.
At both Southside and Northside high schools, entryways also need design upgrades. Basically, visitors should be funneled through the office.
It’s a fundamental method, according to Terry Morawski, chief operations officer, over the district’s buildings and grounds, safety and security and other duties.
“We need universal secure entries for all campuses – it’s becoming standard nationwide,”?he said. “When people enter the building, they can be seen by an adult, talked to and directed to where they may go. A check-in system is already in place in all our schools.”?Taking away any distance between the door and the office is the goal, he explained, as well as removing any access to corridors, classrooms or other common areas.
All Fort Smith schools ask for visitors’ driver’s licenses, that then are run against a sex-offender database, he explained. Vendors and service people also are checked, he added.
A controlled access system for every campus, such as coded keycards, also is in the millage proposal and budget. Again, a universal system is the goal, he explained, which is more controllable than the use of keys.
Other planned improvements are common-sense, such as full campus coverage of outdoor security lighting and fencing.
The security and safety action plan was the first portion of the plan to gain the full approval of the citizen action teams, he noted.
His oversight duties include working with the school district’s supervisor of safety and security, Eric Huber. Both coordinate with resource officers whose salaries are shared with the Fort Smith Police Department. In this millage proposal, salary expenditures are not included.
Safety and security proposals in the action plan create a universal standard for 19 elementaries, four junior highs and two high schools.
“Members of the Citizens Committee have invested over 700 hours in their efforts to learn about the long-term needs of the district and prioritize them as part of a millage proposal for the Board of Education. I continue to be very impressed by their commitment of time and sustained level of engagement in this critically important process,” Dr. Doug Brubaker, superintendent
One of those volunteers is Autumn Minnick, who began as a participant to create the Vision 2023 five-year plan and continued through the Citizens Committee segment, which reached the consensus that a millage increase would be necessary to fund the priority needs it identified.
“If you had asked me after Vision 2023 was finished where most of a millage increase would have gone, I?think I would have told you something different than where we ended up,”?she said. After reviewing a professional facilities assessment of district buildings and then touring schools in person, needs were apparent to her and her fellow volunteers, she said.
Through this comprehensive process, the committees were furnished with “real numbers, real costs,”?Minnick explained. The committee’s recommendation that the school board ask for a millage increase this year was fact-and-figure based, she emphasized.
Voters who weren’t a part of the first-hand experience of the Citizens Committee can see, read and hear almost all of what the members learned through their work, she said. “Every document that is in my Vision 2023 folder and my Citizens Committee folder is online at the school district’s website right now. The videos of the meetings – all of it is out there.”
Student safety came to the top through every step of these discussions, participants agreed. With the alarming frequency of school violence incidents, paying for safer building designs and installing security equipment systems is worthy of almost one-third of the budget that would be afforded to the district with a millage increase – that was the consensus of all involved.
Well-planned safety and security procedures are in place, Dr. Brubaker recently assured the community in statements after the Parkland, Fla., school shootings. The Fort Smith Public School District does maintain diligent policies and practices with the well-being of students always in mind.
But both the five-year plan and the millage proposal developed with the diverse groups made up of citizens, administrators, teachers, school staff and law enforcement members all pointed to existing and ongoing needs that must be paid for. Design, construction, renovation and purchases are necessary so that district can do its best to protect everyone in school.
Next month, Entertainment Fort Smith will have an article about other aspects of the proposed uses of a millage increase, including plans for a new Career and Technology Center for education for all Fort Smith Public School students in health care, information technology, manufacturing and other career path opportunities.
To learn more about the recommendations of the Vision 2023 and Citizen Committees studies, visit the Fort Smith Public School District website, fortsmithschools.org
Under “Our District” choose Citizens Committee to access all the information used by the members, available to read or download. Video of meetings is also available.
The Citizens Committee’s recommendation to the Fort Smith Board of Education can be seen in full in a video on the site.
Summary chart of items and costs of the millage proposal
Election day is May 22.
This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.