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About half of the Monticello School Board session Jan. 16 focused on ways to bring down deficit spending next year. Most of the remainder was spent discussing ways to increase security at the district’s five buildings.
But economic issues of the former did not deter school board members from spending on the latter in an attempt to make local schools safer.
About $30,000 will be spent for buzzer systems at White Heath and Lincoln Elementary schools as well as Monticello Middle School. Panic/auto phone dialers will be installed at all five buildings.
“I don’t see any reason not to lock down our facilities. It seems fairly obvious that we ought to do it,” said school board president Jim Coleman.
Most districts in the country are assessing their safety and security in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adult staff members before shooting himself.
With buzzer systems, school doors will be locked after students arrive in the morning. During the school day those wanting admittance will need to be buzzed in by personnel in school offices.
Installing such a system for the combined high school/Washington Elementary complex will prove more difficult. Since high schoolers use four of Washington’s classrooms, they travel outdoors from one school to the other several times a day, making a traditional buzz-in system cumbersome on office staff.
Superintendent Vic Zimmerman proposed running a seven-foot-high fence along the west side of the high school and continuing it up the steps and along the path students take to Washington.
Buzzers would then be placed on the outside of the fences instead of near the doors of those two schools. That way students could come and go through unlocked entries while others would need to be buzzed in to get past the fence.
Board members wondered if there could be another option, such as using the back side of the buildings to make the trek between classes. Zimmerman said that option would cut the number of doors students could use, greatly reducing traffic flow.
He said cutting through Miller Gymnasium to get from one school to another was also discussed, but that it would be disruptive to classes using the gym.
There was also concern about the aesthetics of the fence, with one board member wondering out loud if it would resemble a prison.
Zimmerman said it would not be your typical chain-link fence, but understood the trepidation.
“But that’s unfortunately the day and age we’re in,” he said.
The board voted unanimously to spend up to $30,000 to install panic buttons in all five schools, buzzer systems in White Heath, Lincoln, and the middle school, and to retrofit doors so they could be kept locked while open. In emergencies they could then be closed and remain locked.
The district will research high school/Washington possibilities further and report back to the school board at a later date.
Zimmerman said other security options such as more cameras within the schools were researched, but he was not recommending it at this time.
New ag class
The board approved adding the option of a Conservation Management class to the agriculture curriculum at the high school. Principal Tip Reedy did not anticipate any more staffing needed to accommodate the class, which 40 students are interested in taking.
“It further diversifies our ag classes,” said Reedy. “I foresee it as breaking up some of the horticulture class overloads.”
In other action, the board:
• approved $70,000 for summer maintenance work, which includes tuck-pointing and sidewalk projects. Zimmerman said that is about half the normal amount spent due to budget constraints.
• were informed the Illinois General Assembly did not pass pension reform at the January session, leaving the issue to the new General Assembly this spring. The Monticello School District currently pays the entire 9.4 percent teacher portion; the state contributes eight percent.
• were told that Monticello Middle School will host the IESA Class 3A eighth grade boys state basketball tournament Feb. 9-14.
• heard that Monticello High School cracked the top 100 schools in the annual Chicago Sun-Times rankings, placing 94th out of 689 high schools that were ranked. The middle school and Washington Elementary were also eligible in other categories, and each cracked the top 20 percent.
• hired Andrew Webb to teach high school social studies for the second semester. He replaces Brian Gorman, who accepted a post at Eastern Illinois University.