James Arrowood, Cobb Schools’ director of public safety, and Danny Smith, Marietta’s director of maintenance and support, said their districts have multiple security tactics in place but are both looking at other means to provide additional safety.
“Parents were panicked. They were afraid for the safety of their children and rightfully so,” Arrowood said about the days and weeks following the Newtown, Conn., shooting, where 20 children and six teachers were shot and killed. “I have grandchildren in the school system and understand their fear factor, but all we can do is assure them that safety is our utmost priority and we are doing what we can to make sure the school is as safe as possible.”
Cobb and Marietta have allotted funds they can spend annually on security measures in the schools. In Cobb, that budget is approximately $3 million, and in Marietta it is $187,000.
Arrowood said, unlike many departments in the district, his budget has remained the same throughout the woes of the economy.
“The school district sees security as a high priority,” he said.
Security funding for Cobb and Marietta pays for school resource officers, surveillance camera maintenance and installation, visitor log-in stations in the front offices, badge access entry and GEMA-certified manuals in each classroom that extensively lay out what employees should do if there is an emergency.
Cobb has 42 full-time officers working at every high school and 75 percent of the middle schools — some middle schools share an officer. They cost the district roughly $1.5 million annually, or between $35,000 and $40,000 per officer.
Arrowood said when he joined Cobb Schools 10 years ago, he changed the regulations so officers are Georgia Post Certified because he wants to know that they are coming to Cobb with adequate experience and having undergone an extensive background check similar to what local police departments require.
“Most of our officers have 10-plus years in law enforcement and are former local officers,” he said.
Marietta has one officer at Marietta Middle School and two at Marietta High School. In addition to this, a couple of officers with the Marietta Police Department rotate on a part-time basis at the Marietta Sixth Grade Academy.
The approximate salaries of the three officers are $182,000.
Marietta spokesman Thomas Algarin said their officers are employees of the Marietta Police Department, which governs their policies, code of conduct, duties, responsibilities, assignment locations and communication.
Neither district has resource officers in the elementary schools, but they have determined what the cost would be and if it would be feasible.
Arrowood said Cobb would need an additional 80 officers if it wanted an officer at each of its 112 schools, which would cost an additional $6 million annually.
When asked if that could be afforded by the district he said, “That has not been a recommendation at this point.”
Marietta estimates it would cost the district $429,920 annually to place an officer at each of its eight elementary schools.
Algarin said with current funding levels, the district could not afford such a security measure.
However, each school district currently has safety protocols in place at the elementary school level.
For example, Cobb is in the middle of installing at least 536 high-definition, digital surveillance cameras at every elementary school, with special purpose local option sales tax funding. Arrowood said they are installing at least eight at each school, a $5 million cost, prior to a 20 percent across-the-board cut, to the district.
Any leftover funding from this installation will be used to replace cameras at the 16 high schools.
There are at least 64 cameras in each high school and 16 at each of the 25 middle schools in Cobb.
If approved in March, SPLOST IV will pay the additional $5 million to continue replacing cameras in the high schools and middle schools.
In Marietta City Schools, there are more than 350 cameras at its 12 schools, including 18 at the Marietta Performance Learning Center. Each elementary school has eight cameras, the high school has 120, middle school has 86 and Marietta Sixth Grade Academy has 70.
Another security measure in place at the elementary schools in both Cobb and Marietta is something called an “access control system,” which requires employees to use their ID badges to access any door other than the front entrance during school hours.
Arrowood said the badge system in Cobb can be monitored at the school or by his department off-site.
They are looking at the costs to install an access door at the front entrance as well, which currently remains unlocked at all times.
Both districts also require visitors to check into the front office.
Many schools have a computer at the front desk where visitors can sign in, state where they are going on campus and then sign out when they leave.
“This is standard at all school levels,” Arrowood said. “A visitor must check into the front office. They should have some type of identification on them, and employees are required to have their ID badges on them at all times.”
If a visitor is seen not wearing a badge, Arrowood said Cobb Schools staff members are given the go-head to question them and challenge them.
“Employees seem to do a pretty good job at that,” he said. “We have arrested people who didn’t check in properly.”
Marietta’s elementary schools also have a program in which a visitor’s ID can be scanned for any potential red flags, such as whether the individual has a criminal history or registered as a sexual predator.
In addition to putting officers at more schools or increasing the locations where badges may be needed to gain entry into a school, Cobb’s Deputy Superintendent of Operations Chris Ragsdale said they are looking into adding a buzzer system at the front doors, specifically at elementary schools.
A buzzer would require visitors to press a button at the main entrance and front office personnel would determine whether that person should be allowed into the school.
Ragsdale said they are trying to figure out whether they should connect the buzzer to the security camera system if it is affordable.
“The budget will definitely play into that,” he said.
Like Cobb, Smith said Marietta has been in contact with vendors to see what the cost and time frame for installation might be.
He also said Marietta is looking into a few “structural changes” in order to make the front office more secure.
Smith said an example of that might be installing another set of doors at the main entrance so that visitors could come in from the outside but not be able to go any farther than that.
“It might be closer to the office where the office personnel can engage them,” he said.
Cobb and Marietta will begin discussing their FY14 budgets for all district departments, including public safety, in coming months with approval of the next year’s budget sometime in June.