Hamilton County receives $800,000 to make schools safer

Hamilton County receives $800,000 to make schools safer

State allocates Haslam's $25 million to school districts

September 25th, 2018 by Meghan Mangrum in Local Regional News

Clay Thomas, chaperone and pastor at Rivermont Presbyterian Church, gives instructions to students on April 18, 2018 at First Christian Church in Chattanooga. A group of students from various high schools around the city went to Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and other federal lawmakers about school safety.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

A GLIMPSE AT THE REGION


*Earlier this year, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam allocated $25 million for one-time grants to school districts to improve safety features and plans in local schools. Here’s how much districts in our region received.

  • Athens City Schools: $41,160
  • Bledsoe County: $61,350
  • Bradley County: $250,330
  • Cleveland City Schools: $145,280
  • Franklin County: $132,110
  • Grundy County: $66,420
  • Hamilton County: $831,460
  • Marion County: $102,460
  • Meigs County: $53,990
  • McMinn County: $135,500
  • Polk County: $68,070
  • Rhea County: $120,330
  • Sequatchie County: $65,830

Hamilton County Schools will receive more than $800,000 to make district schools safer.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam allocated $25 million this year in one-time funding for school districts to address safety risks and vulnerabilities.

The amounts received by school districts varied. Locally, Bradley County Schools received more than $250,000, but many rural districts received smaller allotments, such as Polk County Schools' $68,070.

"We have made security for children at our schools a priority, so there was an urgency to have all schools assessed and the funding allocated to increase school safety as we started the school year," Haslam said in a statement. "I thank the members of the School Safety Working Group for their work to identify solutions, the General Assembly for making these funds available, and state and local public safety officials for promptly completing the assessments."

All 147 school districts in the state received a chunk of the $25 million after completing the first-ever statewide assessment of school facilities and safety procedures. Shelby County Schools received the largest amount — $2.8 million. The second and third largest allocations were Metro Nashville Public Schools with $1.4 million and Knox County Schools with $1.1 million, respectively.

The assessment, and more money on top of the annual Safe Schools grants, came out of Haslam's School Safety Working Group.

The group was formed in response to high-profile incidents around the nation, including a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead on Valentine's Day earlier this year.

In March, the working group recommended the statewide review of school facilities and safety procedures and precautions, which led to immediate safety assessments by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in coordination with the Department of Education and local school officials.

School districts, which will receive the funds through reimbursements for money spent, can use them for a variety of things such as capital improvements — door locks, visitor screening procedures, shatter-resistant glass — or on services to students such as adding mental health services, school counselors and psychologists.

Hamilton County Schools intends to use the $831,460 it received "primarily on capital improvements," Superintendent Bryan Johnson said Tuesday.

"We're excited that the funding is there to support our schools," Johnson said. "All of them underwent a safety audit, so we are excited to be able to meet some of those needs."

Some safety enhancements already in the works in Hamilton County include a new visitor identification system, Raptor, which was installed earlier this year, video monitors and cameras, and electronic door locks.

Some things as simple as blinds in classrooms and regular key locks on doors are needed in some schools.

The district already receives $332,580 through the state's Safe Schools grant, which is used to fund some of the district's about 31 school resource officers. Johnson included an additional $500,000 in his 2018-19 budget to fund more resource officers, but the county notably has had a difficult time filling vacancies.

According to the Tennessee Department of Education, 213 new school resource officers, primarily funded by local governments, have been added statewide.

"Students learn best in an environment where they feel safe and protected, so it is our responsibility to ensure our schools are secure, and this funding allows us to do just that," state education commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement. "Over and over we have heard gratitude from districts for this process that has helped them connect with their local community, especially law enforcement agencies, around school safety and to create long-term plans to support the safety of students and educators."

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.


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