Ringgold School District looking into security upgrades

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 12:22 a.m.

In the wake of the mass shooting Dec. 4 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., local school districts have studied policies, procedures and emergency plans in efforts to maximize security.

This week, Ringgold School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla offered safety recommendations.

Polkabla hopes to implement some changes by the end of the school year, with more to follow over the summer.

Polkabla wants to replace the outside cameras at Ringgold Middle School in Finleyville as quickly as possible.

“We found that the cameras that are outside of the school were designed to be indoor cameras,” said Polkabla, whose comment drew moans from people at the school board meeting Monday.

“They were put outside. I don't know why, but that's one thing we need to correct.”Outside lighting also is a concern, she said.

“The rear of the building is very dark,” Polkabla said. “We really need to take a look at brightening up the whole area.”

The superintendent said she wants panic buttons in all school offices.

“These buttons would be similar to those at a bank,” Polkabla said. “If that bank gets robbed, they push the button and the police and emergency responders are notified.

“I also want to have that tied into something that the principals could wear on their bodies and have the ability to push the button if something happens.”

Summertime changes would involve building security vestibules at Ringgold Elementary School North, Ringgold Middle School and the high school; additional hallway cameras in all buildings; door replacement at the high school; and an improved communication system at Elementary School North.

In the latter case, modular classrooms aren't connected to the school system.

Polkabla called for the board hire a security chief.

“This person should be a police officer with a contract similar to that of director of security, Tommy Thompson,” Polkabla said. “They will work hand in hand.

“I want armed security personnel at each building, with two at the high school. They will be hired with pay similar to hall monitors' rate of $15.50 per hour. They'd only work when school is in session.”

Director Chuck Smith asked where money to pay the additional personnel was going to come from.

“I don't know if it will move from the debt service or where we can get it from,” Polkabla said.

“The fact is that our most important asset is our children. This is for their protection and to avoid bad situations. We're looking at probably $25,000 per person.”

“I understand what we're protecting,” Smith responded. “I want to know where we're getting all this money from.”

Director Maureen Ott inquired about the possibility of adding a police chief.

“I'd like to hire that person, then have him tell us what we need and who to hire,” Ott said.

Polkabla said that in order to hire a police officer, the district would have to petition the Washington County Court of Common Pleas. She also wants to restore the district's Originating Agency number, which would recognize a Ringgold police force and give it the ability to issue citations.

Polkabla wants to conduct lockdown drills a minimum of twice per nine-week grading period. She plans to update the crisis management book and flip chart.

The district comprises seven municipalities, and Polkabla wants to allow the local police access to the district's security camera feeds.

“With just a click on the Internet, Carroll Township, Southwest Regional, Donora and Monongahela police can get a look at what's going in the schools,” Polkabla added.

An effort will be made to update floor plans and ensure all exits and hallways are clearly marked so emergency responders can easily identify where they are and where they need to go in the event of an emergency.

Polkabla asked that an item be placed on the agenda for Wednesday's board meeting to advertise for the police chief position. The board will meet at 7 p.m. in the administration building.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jsellew@tribweb.com or 724-684-2667.

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