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School leaders hear parent, student concerns, discuss budgeting $500K for building safety upgrades

If the Crook County School Board could do one thing to improve school safety, what would it be?

"Put a police officer in every school because I know that kids can't have armed guns or weapons on them but if a shooter comes into one of our schools, it's nice to have a little protection there to stop him from harming us," replied Crook County Middle School eighth-grader Mikinley Puckett when asked during a public meeting.

The discussion was part of a special board meeting on school safety Thursday evening at the district office with the goal of making recommendations for the 2018/19 budget, which begins July 1.

Mikinley echoed her mother's earlier request but gave the board members a student's perspective on the timely topic of school safety.

Earlier that same day, vandalism discovered in one of the student bathrooms at Crook County High School threatened potential violence against the school on April 9, prompting a law enforcement investigation.

"Last month, there was another school shooting where two kids got shot, and the SRO (school resource officer) stopped it. I just really feel that schools should be protected," Mikinley said. "One way to prevent school shootings is keeping us safe and putting police officers in the schools and trying to protect us."

Mikinley was the only student in attendance, and Crook County School Board Chair Doug Smith asked if she believed her fellow students are scared.

"Yes. I feel like when some of us come to school, we have a little gut feeling like we never know for sure if we're going to be safe," Mikinley said. "We talk about school shootings a lot, and I think it scares a lot of us because it's reality. … It could happen to us anytime."

The middle schooler's perspective was shared at the conclusion of a long discussion about school safety, with the board members ultimately agreeing to allow as much as half a million dollars to be spent on programs and facility improvements in the next school year in hopes of making a local school a more difficult target.

CCSD Facilities and Safety Supervisor Leland Bliss presented a list of suggested safety changes to school grounds that could cost an estimated $639,000.

Those include improved glass in school entry ways; additional cameras; card readers on doors; improved fencing and gates; exterior door bollards; and PA systems.

Administrators also listed some procedural and management initiatives, including reviewing open door procedures for programs and events; increasing the number of safety drills; modifying fire drill procedures; and surveying students to determine school connection.

Several projects are on the list to be completed, such as trimming trees and shrubs; removing double door handles; providing emergency response kits to classrooms; and installing new radio systems and PA speakers.

Superintendent Duane Yecha pointed out that the district's local service plan through High Desert Educational Service District could fund a second school resource officer as well as staff training for threat assessment. The new SRO agreement would start out as a five-year commitment.

Administrators have not decided when the school police officer would come on duty and at which locations. It would take a minimum of four months to get the new SRO into service because of the training that would be needed once the SRO is hired.

"I would love to see an SRO in every school. It's awesome that you have one that you can get. It's super exciting for me," said Mandi Puckett during the meeting. "An SRO and ability to respond onsite is super, super important for me as a mom, so we don't have to sit and wait and huddle in a corner."

Mandi previously represented a group of parents who brought their school safety concerns to the March 12 school board meeting, suggesting that the district look into a School Safety Proposal Committee, a diverse group of parents, school staff and law enforcement who support the three-legged stool's multi-faceted approach to school safety, which includes prevention, treatment and enforcement.

"Metal detectors, locked doors, secured and hard entrances, and an SRO at every school is my vote as a mom," Mandi said. "Then look at the other three-legged parts of the stool as they are definitely equally important."

Dana Millen, a retired CCSD teacher and former Powell Butte Community Charter School board member, encouraged the district to secure front entrances for all schools.

"As a Powell Butte teacher, I felt very vulnerable, on the highway, where anybody could walk in at any given time," she said.

Aside from facility upgrades, board members agreed to use additional funds to try to increase student's school engagement in the form of clubs and activities.

"We're really looking at improving relationships, getting kids connected to school and to activities and clubs," Yecha said.

CCSD Director of Business and Finance Anna Logan said funding for these safety and school engagement initiatives would come from the capital reserve, maintenance reserve, and the general fund.

"The smartest thing to do is to prioritize what we think is the most effective for the money spent," she said.

"For everything that we agree to do, there is going to be a tradeoff," Smith added.

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