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CMS board to ask for $33.7 million to boost safety

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  • Your Schools: Teacher pay - Hope, fear, confusion
  • Town hall meetings

    CMS will hold its first budget-related town hall meeting from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Waddell Language Academy, 7030 Nations Ford Road. Superintendent Heath Morrison will open by talking about the 2013-14 budget. That will be followed by opportunities for participants to meet with members of the district’s 22 advisory task forces.

    Other sessions will be held during the same hours March 4 at North Mecklenburg High, 11201 Old Statesville Road, Huntersville, and March 11 at Butler High School, 1810 Matthews-Mint Hill Road, Matthews.

    Details: www.cms.k12.nc.us/mediaroom/taskforce.



The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask county commissioners for $33.7 million for cameras, fences, screening systems and other safety improvements.

In a separate meeting earlier Tuesday, commissioners reviewed and discussed the proposal. But they will not vote until March 19.

CMS Chief Operating Officer Millard House said district officials are still working on plans and priorities for individual schools. But he outlined efforts that Superintendent Heath Morrison said would advance “our most sacred obligation, which is the protection of our students and our staff.”

The school safety plan includes:

• Adding intercom systems to all 159 schools that let someone inside view and talk to people who want in before deciding whether to remotely unlock the doors. The plan, which also includes card or key fob readers to allow employee access to buildings, would cost $1.2 million.

• Adding security cameras with DVD recording at all elementary and middle schools, at a cost of $16 million. (High schools already have them.) Because those cameras use bandwidth, CMS would spend another $821,000 to expand the network to those schools.

• Spending $13 million to install 8-foot chain-link fencing around school campuses and mobile classrooms. The mobiles, which are used to expand the capacity of schools, account for $10 million of that.

• Upgrading CMS police radios to allow better communication across the county, at a cost of $2.5 million.

• Installing visitor-screening systems at all schools that do instant background checks on anyone signing in. That would cost $240,000.

Morrison, House and other CMS staff started a safety survey after December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. House noted that school had good security systems in place, but said these additions would help make CMS safer.

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart asked about the potential clash between the effort to be welcoming and the installation of fences that could make schools look like fortresses.

House said CMS will avoid anything that looks “institutionalized.”

“We have to find that sweet spot,” he said. “What’s secure – at least as secure as we can make it – and what feels good.”

Commissioners had questions about specifics, including whether it’s wise to install expensive fences around mobile classrooms that are moved when enrollment shifts. Commissioner Karen Bentley referred to it as “putting permanent fences around temporary buildings.”

House said CMS is consulting with its staff who handle mobiles, as well as police and fire officials from around the county, to make sure any fences allow movement of mobiles and access for emergency vehicles.

Commissioner Vilma Leake said she wants to see school-by-school plans, but supports the effort.

“It will cost us money today,” Leake said, “but we don’t want it to cost us lives later.”

Also Tuesday, Morrison said CMS cannot meet the Friday deadline to submit a teacher performance-pay plan to the state. Three days before that deadline, neither he nor the task force that has been working on the plan had seen a draft being prepared by Battelle for Kids, a nonprofit consultant working with CMS.

Morrison said it’s more important to get the plan right, with teacher voices strongly represented, than to meet an “artificial deadline.” It’s still not clear where money for performance-based bonuses or raises would come from.

A teacher task force has been working on the plan since December. Tuesday some of them outlined a proposal to create career advancements, from coach to specialist to expert, for teachers and counselors who demonstrate skills that they can share with others. Teachers could specialize in different areas, such as instruction, technology or data.

Task force members said any new compensation plan would allow current teachers to opt in or out, while new hires would automatically be enrolled.

Morrison said CMS will submit its plan to the state when it’s finished later this spring and will continue looking for ways to pay for it. Performance pay could start as early as 2014-15, he said.

Helms: 704-358-5033
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