New Jersey Spotlight Article

April 17, 2018


New Jersey Spotlight



After Sandy Hook and Parkland, schools need military-grade imaging, metal detectors, wands, magnetic locks, ID card scanners, and surveillance cameras with livestream capabilities

Jill Marino is scared for her son Jaxson’s life. The second-grader attends school at Parkview Elementary in Westville and with the nearly weekly reports of school shootings unfolding across the country, Marino says she will do whatever it takes to make sure Jaxson comes home safe every day.

Finding funding

Funding these advanced security systems is not always as easy as it has been in Warren and Ocean counties. For areas where forfeiture funds and town contributions are not enough, schools must seek out other sources.

Around 400 schools in the state use safety-grant money provided by the New Jersey Schools Insurance Group (NJSIG), an insurance fund for public school districts. According to William Mayo, NJSIG executive director, those 400 schools are NJSIG members and pay membership fees from which the grant money is drawn. CRG is a preapproved purchase under that safety grant, making it a viable option for those who receive a grant. Mayo said this year, they have given out nearly $4 million in grant money.

For schools without grant money, funding security systems often comes down to the discretion of the local school boards. A common complaint from school officials is the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap on school budgets creates a challenge in financing security enhancements. The additional $500 million approved by the Legislature could alleviate some of that pressure however.

On the state level, New Jersey’s school finance law, the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, provides a per pupil allotment for “security aid.” For 2018-2019, Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget proposal includes a line item of close to $266 million for security aid for public schools (a $66 million increase over last year’s amount) and $11 million for nonpublic schools.

According to a New Jersey School Board Association report, 55 percent of districts said they fund security enhancements through their operating budgets, and 4.6 percent said they look to school construction grants and bond proceeds to build new doors, locks, and vestibules.

Public school prisons

But armoring schools is only half the battle, according to Bayonne Superintendent Dr. Michael A. Wanko. The other half, he said, is maneuvering students through the new procedures quickly and without creating the feeling of a prison.

Bayonne schools have nearly mastered the art of locking down, now that high school and elementary schools are equipped with state-of-the-art walkthrough metal detectors, wands, magnetic locks on doors, ID card scanners, and standalone surveillance cameras with livestream capabilities.

Wanko said getting thousands of students into school safely and quickly despite the advanced security protocol is a feat borne out of necessity.

“We live in a different world now,” Wanko said, referring to the frequency of school shooting events.

In 1996, a tragic murder at Bayonne High School drove then-principal Wanko, to install metal detectors, cameras, and a sophisticated ID card swipe system throughout the school. He said the money came because of the tragedy, and now they’re finding ways to upgrade systems and expand them to other district schools with the use of state grant money and local board funds.

Wanko said after more than 20 years, parents and students have come to see the locks and cameras as a natural part of the education experience.

“It’s not only about the hardware and cameras and all that material,” Wanko said. “You have to have a positive school climate if you want to be safe. You must work on ensuring that everyone has that feeling of being safe and secure in a welcoming and positive environment … then (walking through metal detectors) becomes second nature.”

For Jill Marino, metal detectors and security vestibules might go a long way in delivering some peace of mind while her son is at school, but she said there’s always more that can be done. And she won’t rest until shootings become a thing of the past.

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