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Split council tables school's request for security upgrades

Some members express concern about whether gaming dollars have been used to pay debt

February 20, 2013
Expressing concerns with how the Crawford County Community School Corp. has spent gaming dollars originally intended to pay down existing debt, the Crawford County Council last Tuesday night tabled a request to allow the school to use $150,000 of the gaming revenue the county shares with the corporation for security upgrades at the elementary schools.

Dr. Mark Eastridge, superintendent of the corporation, flanked by board members Traci Kerns, Shawn Scott and Dennis Talley and Marty Miller of Miller Electronics, said the school re-evaluated its security following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that saw 26 people, including 20 children, killed.

While Crawford County Junior-Senior High School is in good shape, the five elementary schools are in need of upgraded surveillance systems and doors, he said. In making the evaluation, Eastridge said he relied upon Scott, who is chief deputy with the Crawford County Sheriff's Department, as well as Talley, who is an Indiana conservation officer, and Kelly Hammond, who is with the Indiana State Police. The board, he said, recently had an hour and a half executive session where the only thing it talked about was security.

"You don't want to overkill on school security as far as you don't want to make your school a fortress, but, daggone, you've got to make it safe as best you can for the kids," Eastridge said.

He said the corporation is in the process of working with emergency officials to conduct lock-down safety drills at each of its schools. So far, exercises have taken place at English, Marengo and Milltown.

Crawford County Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Allen told the council that his role is to see if school personnel are following protocol and, if not, give them direction.

"The whole idea is to buy time, because the response of police officers in Crawford County, it takes a while to get anywhere from anywhere," he said.

One issue already uncovered is that the only way to lock classroom doors is from the outside with a key, Allen said. While he didn't try to put any stress on the teacher, he said he did observe one teachers who came out of his classroom to lock the door fumble several times before successfully doing so.

"So, that's a problem," he said.

Allen added he discovered doors of adjoining rooms that school officials assumed to be locked weren't.

"It's not practical to keep a door locked that you can only lock and unlock with a key," he said.

Eastridge said that another safety measure the corporation also is considering is installing a "windshield glass" in the exterior doors.

"Now, will that keep somebody out? No, I realize that," he said. "Will that slow them down? Yes."

Talley said that is extremely important.

"Seconds are lives," he said. "When it comes to active shooter situations, every second can and most of the time is just another life."

Scott said having a good surveillance system can greatly improve how law enforcement personnel are able to respond. He noted that Internet air cards the council previously authorized the sheriff's department to purchase allow him and other officers to access the video system on their laptops. If a shooter were inside the building, officers would be able to know where the person was prior to entering the building.

"On the other token, we would be able to redirect people out of the location," Scott said. "We see there is a bad thing happening at the junior high; let's clear out the rest of this side of the building and get them as far away as possible."

Miller said the cameras in the high school were upgraded a couple of years ago, but those in the elementary schools have basic resolution, which make it difficult to determine what is being seen.

However, before voting to approve use of the gaming dollars for the upgrades, Councilman William Breeding said he would like to discuss how past monies have been used.

"I understand this was set up to pay on the debt (incurred from the renovation of the elementary schools in the 1990s) and kindergarten," he told Eastridge. "It's been my experience that not much of it has gone on the debt since I've been here."

Eastridge replied that the council must, and has, approved every expenditure the corporation has made with the gaming dollars.

Former council member David Jones, who was in the audience, said that the council only allowed, in later years, up to $250,000 of the gaming revenue to be used for full-time kindergarten because a grant the corporation received for the program didn't end up having as much revenue available for the program as anticipated. The intent, he explained, was for gaming dollars to be used just until the five-year grant expired, at which time the program was to be self-sufficient.

"Since then, you've come back more for kindergarten money and not totally absorbed that into your system," he said.

Breeding asked why the school corporation holds back a year's worth of gaming revenue before applying it to the debt.

Eastridge answered that he does it as a budgeting safeguard against unexpected situations, such as the county withholding a portion of the annual funds, which it has done a couple of time, including just this past year. His predecessor did the same thing.

"But, if you get it for debt reduction, the longer you hold it, the less effective it is," Councilman Doug McLain said.

Eastridge said he doesn't believe the corporation can pre-pay its debt.

Councilman Steve Bartels asked if the corporation has discretionary monies available to fund the project without using gaming dollars, adding he believes it does. (As of Dec. 31, the corporation's Local Rainy Day Fund had a balance of $592,589.)

"We may not be able to do what Marty has put together for us," Scott said. "We may not be able to add eight cameras at Leavenworth. We may be adding four cameras, but we're going to do something. It's just, if you guys are willing to be a partner with us."

Following a motion by Breeding, the board voted 4-3 (Joey Robinson, Breeding and McLain also in favor; Jerry Brewer, Jim Taylor and Sharon Wilson against) to table the matter.

The council, however, didn't completely shut the door on the project, as it could vote to allow the corporation to use its gaming dollars to reimburse its Rainy Day Fund.

Later in the meeting, the council again discussed the school corporation's use of its gaming dollars. It voted 7-0 to have its attorney, Marcus Burgher IV, send a letter to Eastridge requesting clarification on how the monies have been expended.

In an interview with Eastridge on Thursday, he said he already had prepared a document showing where the 2008 through 2012 gaming dollars have been spent.

During that time, the corporation has received $2.3 million from the county, which has accrued $42,037 of interest, for total revenue of almost $2.4 million. Of that, $1.4 million (63 percent of the total) has been used for debt reduction, $370,153 for full-time kindergarten (17 percent), $399,599 for renovations to the science labs and media center at the junior-senior high school (18 percent), $68,608 for security improvements (3 percent) and $30,000 for fire hydrants at the junior-senior high school (1 percent).

Eastridge noted that, if the school corporation instead would had taken out a 20-year loan with an annual interest rate of 5 percent to pay for the science labs and media center upgrades, the $399,599 project would have cost $632,923.

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