Lockport resident Jim Shultz has created a petition asking the Lockport City School District for some answers on a new security project.
The petition, which was signed by about 100 other district residents and given to Superintendent Michelle Bradley on Tuesday, asks district officials to put the project on hold and schedule a special public hearing to solicit input from the public.
The district is spending nearly all of a recent $4 million state grant on new security enhancements at the entrances to its eight schools, including bullet-proof greeter windows, a new visitor badging system and a mass notification system at every school except the high school, which already has a system in place.
Shultz has questioned why district officials decided to spend $3.8 million of the $4.2 million allocated under the Smart Schools Bond Act to support the project. School board members are scheduled to vote on a $3.3 million bid received from Ferguson Electric at their March 28 meeting.
"This was money that was designated for technology education. That’s what voters bought it for. Why did the district decide to invest it all in security but not technology education?" Shultz said.
Robert LiPuma, district director of assessment and technology and chief information officer, said the district had several options it could have pursued with the money.
One was increasing its broadband capacity, and LiPuma said the district just recently finished upgrading its broadband infrastructure.
The district already has iPads for students at every grade level, and LiPuma noted there's already a maintenance plan in place for repairing the iPads. Each year, the district replaces iPads for two grade levels, at a cost of about $140,000 to $150,000 a year. Deborah Coder, assistant superintendent for finance and management services, said the district gets trade-in credits for the used iPads.
With those other items covered already, district officials felt the Smart Schools funding should be used for security.
Bradley said she is aware the project is costly, but she believes a school resource officer (SRO) in every school would be costly as well.
"We're not going say this isn't expensive. We recognize that, but we also believe a SRO is going to be expensive."
Another question on the citizen petition asks why district officials are going with facial recognition software, which Shultz believes is "experimental" only.
"They are deploying a school security system that is extremely expensive. If it costs 10 times as much as other security systems, is it 10 times as effective?" he said.
LiPuma said local law enforcement representatives tested the software over the summer and felt it worked fine.
Shultz said the facial recognition software is only useful if security officials know who they are looking for, and he believes the software won't work if someone puts a mask over their face.
LiPuma noted the software that the district is purchasing is actually shape recognition software and, further, that the software is only one part of the security project.
"It's more of a shape recognition. It's a newer technology so it can't really be compared with a facial recognition software," LiPuma said.
The software won't stop incidents from occurring, he added, but it "is the software technology that is going to allow us to protect our schools and our students more than we can right now."
Other equipment in the project includes: 240 interior cameras ($589,680); 60 exterior cameras ($185,220); nine visitor management and badging systems ($22,500); 18 panic buttons; 75 servers ($1.3 million); door access control interfaces ($73,000); a number of bullet-proof greeter windows ($19,688) and cabling and wiring.
One thing that stands out to Shultz is the fact that the district's security consultant, Tony Olivo of Corporate Screening & Investigative Group, also consulted for the software developer, SN Tech.
Bradley said Olivo consults with numerous security companies, and she noted that he offered to do the consulting work for the district free of charge. Olivo has been doing this work since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
Shultz also believes the public was not properly informed about the district's plan for spending Smart Schools money. The school board held a public hearing on the proposal in August 2016. Shultz suggested August is a time of year when many people are away on vacation.
Very few school board meetings are well attended, and residents had numerous opportunities to address their concerns, LiPuma asserted.
People will always complain about the scheduling of board meetings, Coder added.
LiPuma said previously that he included representatives of the community, teachers and students in the project planning process. Pressed on Tuesday to confirm whether the then-president of Lockport Education Association was included — after current LEA president David Lowry told the US&J that he was not included — LiPuma said he believes an LEA representative was present.
If residents have concerns about the project, they can contact school trustees or administrators via email or phone, LiPuma added.
If residents wish to comment at a board meeting, they must sign one of two sheets before the beginning of the meeting. One signup sheet is for addressing specific items on the meeting and the other is for general comments.