MONTPELIER — While students enjoy the summer weather, schools are already gearing up for their return. On Monday, Gov. Phil Scott announced the allocation of $1.5 million in funding for school security measures, a drop from the $4 million given last year during the first cycle of the grants.
“Last year, this funded about 567 projects,” said Sunni Eriksen, school safety grants manager for Vermont Emergency Management (VEM). “Grants are available only to folks who didn’t receive them last time.”
Eriksen said she didn’t know why the funding was lower this cycle.
Due to the success of the program — Eriksen said they ran out of funding for all of the different projects — a second cycle was planned with more open language allowing both private and independent, as well as public educational institutions to apply.
Initially, the grants toward security upgrades were inspired by Fair Haven High School’s push for security upgrades in the wake of an encounter with an alleged would-be school shooter, Jack Sawyer.
“(We’re) working on an anonymous tip line, (and) increasing access to reporting,” Eriksen said about state efforts to increase school security from the top down. “There’s always more steps that we can take.”
Last year, 242 schools around the state received $3,998,241 in funding toward school security improvements, including Clarendon Elementary School ($24,018), Fair Haven Grade School ($959.25) and Fair Haven Union High School ($959.25), according to the governor’s website.
And for the Slate Valley Unified Union School District, that means a reimbursement of $82,000 spent before the last grant cycle on safety investments for their students, staff and teachers, Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell said in an email.
“We are looking at putting a visitor management system in place, we are relocating the main office at Fair Haven Grade School and adding catchment areas in many other school lobbies,” Olsen-Farrell said. “In addition, we have added additional security cameras and are ensuring that all of our schools’ phone systems are E911 compliant. We are also putting in a system for parking permits and implementing a comprehensive threat assessment process and working to revise our Emergency Operations Guides.”
Rutland County schools received over $300,000 for their community projects, with the Mettawee Community School receiving $3,000, Middletown Springs Elementary receiving $10,657.34, and Mill River Union High School receiving $15,111.
Northeast Elementary School received $4,725, Orwell Village School got $959.25 and the Otter Valley Union main campus, middle and high school received a combined $44,500.
“These grants are the latest step in our ongoing commitment to ensuring safe learning environments in all Vermont schools,” Scott said. “While Vermont remains among the safest states in the country — and our schools are no exception — we must continue to build upon this effort through a comprehensive approach, including enhancing safety infrastructure, training staff to recognize and address threats and concerning behavior, promoting the importance of ‘see something, say something,’ and engaging the whole community to keep our schools safe.”
The grants are competitive, and schools are allowed to apply for up to $25,000 to cover their school safety projects, with each school responsible for a 25% grant match.
In addition to the grant funding for school safety, the state Department of Public Safety decided to collaborate with Margolis-Healy, a Williston-based campus security company, to distribute training, planning and exercise assistance to schools, while also developing emergency plans with help from Homeland Security Grant Funds, the release said.