Mich. schools getting millions to beef up security

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Students make their way down a hallway at Marshall Middle School in Marshall, Michigan, where security improvements are being funded with a grant from the Michigan State Police.

Michigan schools are dramatically ramping up efforts to modernize their security while fiercely competing for safety grants to afford the pricey upgrades. 

This year, spending on school security has increased dramatically after state lawmakers gave $25 million to the Michigan State Police for school safety grants in the wake of mass school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas.

But the $25 million is about a third of what schools requested. Michigan State Police received a total of 407 applications requesting $69 million for its competitive school safety grant program. The state awarded $25 million in grants to beef up security in and around school buildings and to protect students and staff.

By comparison in 2017, only $2 million in state grants was awarded to schools for safety improvements from 84 requests that sought $8.4 million. 

The majority of funds will be used to harden access points; add access control systems, security film or glass and public address systems; install door barricade devices and door locks; and purchase mobile phone communication and safety applications.

The money is going to 114 public school districts, 42 non-public schools, 22 public charter schools and 10 intermediate school districts.

Detailed emergency assessments and planning materials are displayed at the Marshall Middle School on Wednesday, Nov 7, 2018, where security improvements are being funded with a grant from the Michigan State Police. (Dale G.Young/Detroit News) 2018.

Grants were awarded in two areas: a $10 million pool that did not require a match and a $15 million pool that required a 25 percent cash match. A list of schools and grant awards can be found online.  

State Police officials said for security reasons the department does not disclose what each school is using the money for.

"Some schools have decided to announce what projects they have planned, while others are completing projects when school is not in session to minimize the exposure of particular aspects of their enhancements," said Jason Guthaus, an analyst with State Police's School Safety Grants and Community Services Division.

Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said school safety has always been a priority for superintendents and school districts, but the funding for school security has not been sufficient.

"With the significant increase of violent situations that we have seen over the past couple of years, superintendents have been working with their students, staff, and communities to ensure that their campuses and buildings are as safe as humanly possible," Wigent said. "We have seen many advancements in technology that have come about as a response to these situations and as those continue to surface, additional funds to support those changes are necessary."

Wigent said he does not feel security measures have been lacking in districts across the state. Rather, security and technology have improved, and new safety protocols and training have been developed in recent years.

Dr. Randall Davis, superintendent of schools in Marshall, Michigan, explains where a new security vestibule will be constructed at the Marshall Middle School on Wednesday, Nov 7, 2018. Security improvements are being funded with a grant from the Michigan State Police. (Dale G.Young/Detroit News) 2018.

"By applying for one of the state grants, districts are communicating that school safety continues to be a priority, and the bottom line is ... additional funding is necessary for many of the necessary changes," he said.

Among the biggest winners is Marshall Public Schools, which is receiving $1 million to build nine state-of-the-art vestibules in front of current school building entrances.

Visitors will be photographed and ID cards scanned in the vestibule before they can enter each building.

Superintendent Randall Davis said the grant process prompted the district to perform an audit of its eight buildings to determine high-risk areas that need improvement. Marshall has 2,900 students and 280 teachers and staff.

"We had done some training over the last three years and we kicked it up a notch when the grant was available. You needed an emergency operations plan in place. It had to align with county emergent management planning," Davis said.

The money being used to harden Marshall's school entranceways during school hours also includes the installation of cameras and electronic devices.

"We will print a school pass. You can’t get in without one," Davis said. "Some of our older buildings have a main entrance with a huge hallway. You can’t build a secure walkway from the entrance to the main office. When we let you in, you walk into an open area. If you are bad guy we have to chase you down."

“This way we have consistency across the district where every one of our buildings is secure and no one gets into our building unless the vetting process is secured,” he said.

Safety and security film will be applied to 34,000-square-feet of glass across the district, Davis said. The district's sinking fund will be used toward the match as will money contributed by local foundations, Davis said.

"What it's intended to do it to slow down someone that is trying to break in to allow responders to get to us," Davis said of the glass coating. "These are rated at 3.5 to 5 minutes which is long enough to call first responders."

Among the other largest grant recipients this year: Ann Arbor Public Schools, $956,644; Grand Rapids Public Schools, $866,213; Rochester Community Schools, $828,164 and Detroit Public Schools Community District, $750,000.

Guthaus said grant applications showed schools have been updating their emergency plans with local first responders.

“We are glad to see schools working to be proactive and taking steps for the safety of students and staff at the school," Guthaus said. "We see more engagement with emergency preparedness managers, and we can see that on the applications there have been quite a few conversations.”

Randall Davis, superintendent of schools in Marshall, explains where a new security vestibule will be constructed at the Marshall Middle School. Security improvements are being funded with a grant from the Michigan State Police.

School security funding has been a long-neglected priority, especially in Michigan’s cash-strapped districts.

In Rochester Community Schools in Oakland County, the $828,164 grant will pay for enhancements to doors, windows, communication systems and visual notification systems. The district will be responsible for matching 25 percent of the total costs of the project. 

In 2015, Rochester schools voters overwhelmingly approved a $185 million bond proposal to fund critical infrastructure and technology enhancements across the district and improve student safety and school security.

"Approving the bond proposal was extremely generous. However, the need for further enhancements remains," said Dana Taylor, deputy superintendent of business operations. "The (grant) will ensure we have the additional funding to implement the recommendations made by our security experts."

Taylor said the district engaged a security expert to assess what was lacking not only at the district's facilities but also its procedures and processes.

"The (grant) will enable strategically placed enhancements to doors, windows, communication systems and visual notification systems,” she said.

In Detroit, $750,000 in grant funds will provide access control equipment at 48 Detroit public schools that currently do not have intrusion equipment or intercom systems, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

The objective is to create an environment that locks down most exterior doors and allows limited access to buildings using card readers, Vitti said. Perimeter doors would remain locked for most of the day except at key locations in which students are directed to enter. Staff would enter through specific doors that have access control equipment installed, he said.

“This will help eliminate doors being propped open and restrict non-staff members from entering the facility,” Vitti said.

Mary Beth Fitzpatrick, superintendent of Royal Oak schools, which is getting $578,175 in grant money, said the grant funds will be used to update entrances at Keller Elementary. District money will be used to update entrances at all remaining schools.

At Keller, a new entrance with a buzzer door that faces the neighborhood will be constructed. 

"Folks will be buzzed in and out and they won't be in the hallway. They don’t go directly to the office anymore," Fitzpatrick said.

The money will also be used for two-way radios, way-finding signage and more door access card readers.

"We, like all districts, have been working on improving safety. This grant allows us to do it sooner rather than later and afford some upgrades we couldn’t before," Fitzpatrick said.

In Macomb County, Roseville Community Schools was awarded $243,078 to add additional security measures throughout the schools. Roseville's deputy superintendent Mark Blaszkowski said that fortifying every entryway is the top priority. 

"Every exterior door will have electronic sensors, which will alert principals and staff in real-time, letting them know when a door gets opened or has been left ajar," Blaszkowski said.

 The grant will also allow the district to increase installation of card readers at exterior entryways. 

"This will reduce the use of keys that can create a security risk, if lost or stolen, and give the ability to deny access using software and key cards instead of traditional keys," he said.


Top 10 Largest Grant Winners

  1. Marshall Public Schools $1 million
  2. Ann Arbor Public Schools $956,644
  3. Benton Harbor Area Schools $928,725
  4. Grand Rapids Public Schools $866,213
  5. Rochester Community Schools $828,164
  6. Detroit Public Schools Community District $750,000
  7. Gaylord Community Schools $611,741
  8. Meridian Public Schools $581,888
  9. Royal Oak Schools $578,175
  10. Byron Center Public Schools $568,009

Source: Michigan State Po lice