Every classroom door in the Madison Metropolitan School District could be outfitted with an electronic lock by the end of next school year, pending School Board approval of the district’s new safety plan and recommendations.
On Monday, MMSD officials outlined five recommendations to upgrade existing technology and improve school safety. Chief among the recommendations is the interior electronic locks proposal. If installed, teachers would be able to open their classroom door with a swipe of their identification cards. The new system would also enable administrators to safeguard against lost or stolen keys with the click of a mouse. The price tag for the upgrade is $4.1 million to cover 2,519 interior doors throughout MMSD schools. This number includes classrooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums and other rooms that students and faculty routinely occupy.
An alternative to the electronic system is brass key locks that staff can lock from the inside of their rooms for about half the price.
There are also 1,289 exterior doors throughout MMSD. The district wants all of them electronically monitored with a system that will notify staff if a door is left propped open. Currently, only 10 exterior doors in the district are equipped with this technology. Upgrading the rest of them would cost $2 million.
The district also proposed installing 485 internet-enabled security cameras throughout key locations in some schools. The cameras are an upgrade from the district’s current closed-circuit television system, and would cost $467,716.
Once the district factors in consulting fees and staff safety training and materials, the total high-end cost is $6.9 million. The district anticipates a $947,520 grant from the United States Department of Justice, and plans to fund the remainder with tax incremental district (TID) funds and draw from MMSD’s fund balance budget for one-time expenditures. Mike Barry, MMSD’s assistant superintendent of business, stressed these funds are “separate and distinct,” from the district’s operating budget for instruction.
Still, some board members had a hard time digesting the high price tag. Dean Loumos and TJ Mertz questioned the price of exterior doors, and asked if there was an alternative, like equipping them with alarms.
“This is approx $1,500 per door. That is a lot,” Mertz said.
“I don’t want to cheap out... but putting one of these systems on every single door?” Loumos said. “We might be better off barring them.”
Chad Wiese, MMSD’s director of building services, drew on his experience as principal at La Follette High School, telling board members that an alarm going off every time a door was propped open would be a “nuisance” for school staff.
Madison School Board member Gloria Reyes said the upgrades are a pricey but necessary expense considering the recent rise in school-based violence throughout the country.
“We have to do our best to protect our children,” Reyes said.
Board member Kate Toews, who earlier this year called for the district to install interior locking doors for every classroom, echoed Reyes' sentiment.
"If we are going to invest millions of dollars, we might as well do it right,” Toews said.
Board members pressed district administrators for their rationale on teacher and student safety training. Chief of school operations Karen Keppler recommended supplementing the district’s current model of locking doors and hiding during code red threats with defense, if needed. Toews questioned if subjecting students and teachers to defense-based training is worth the potential trauma students may face going through it.
“It seems like (the defend model) is the current trend in theory, and there was not a lot of evidence that any particular theory is better than another. Given that, do we believe that the cost from a trauma perspective is worth the benefit?” Toews asked.
Keppler, a former elementary school principal, said all training would be age-appropriate for students.
The Madison School Board must approve a district safety plan to meet state statutory requirements by January 2019.