The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

December 19, 2012

Holtzclaw secures grant for schools

ATHENS — In the wake of Friday’s mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, has secured $128,000 in grant funding that will allow local schools to make security upgrades.

Holtzclaw said the routine upgrades, which could include repairing locks or door latches, could be performed over the Christmas holidays.

The money will be split evenly between schools in Limestone County and Madison. Limestone will receive a total of $64,000, with $19,000 going to Athens City Schools and $45,000 to Limestone County schools.

Holtzclaw spoke with area superintendents early Tuesday to discuss the funding. The funding allotted for each district is divided by a formula to ensure each school receives funding.

However, as some schools are newer than others, the superintendent, working the with principal, may determine that a school’s immediate security needs are met and remaining funding is then returned to the superintendent for use at a different school with greater needs.

“I have no doubt that our superintendents, principals and school security personnel are providing their best efforts as they review each school’s security plans,” Holtzclaw said. “However, there are times when purchasing day-to-day needs for the schools takes priority over fixing something like a broken door latch. This is seemingly harmless until something like last Friday’s tragic school shooting in Connecticut reminds us of the significance of overall school safety.”

Karen Tucker, director of technology and public relations for Limestone County Schools, said she anticipates the school board will receive a letter by week’s end detailing what the funds can be used for.

“It will be used for smaller security upgrades like new locks and things like that,” she said.

County schools will not be able to use the money to hire more school resource officers, however. Tucker said the cost of that program is roughly $75,000 per officer.

Athens City Schools Superintendent Dr. Orman Bridges said the city system would also use the funds to change out locks and doorknobs. He said school officials have been reviewing security plans this week to find out where the greatest needs are.

Athens City Schools currently do not have an SRO program, but Bridges said it has been considered. He said the Athens Police Department previously applied for a grant to fund the program, but the request was denied.

He added there have been few parents who have expressed concern about security at city schools, but officials are continuing to give security plans a second look.

“We’re on a heightened alert for visitors going in and out of the buildings,” he said. “We haven’t taken it lightly.”

Holtzclaw was serving as a Madison City Councilman in 2010 when Discovery Middle School student Todd Brown was shot and killed in the hallway during a class change. Fellow student Hammad Memon was arrested on murder charges in Brown’s death.

“ … I know firsthand the vulnerability one feels after a (shooting) incident,” he said. “I know that our children, teachers and educational support staff must be provided with a safe environment and this funding will help to ensure those needs are being met.”

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