Over the past few years, Iberia Parish has spent millions of dollars to enhance security at its schools, the money coming from bond issues approved by parish voters. Neighboring Lafayette Parish plans to follow suit — if it can find support from voters in the spring.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has proposed a new property tax on the April 9 ballot that includes an 11.5-mill tax to pay for school construction, as well as school-by-school upgrades to include security. The board’s proposal also involves two separate millages: 2.5 mills for maintenance and 2 mills for education initiatives, including school resource officers.
The security package is estimated at $20 million; however, the board has yet to make final decisions on how the property taxes will be spent. Board members have said those decisions will come in early 2016.
In Iberia Parish, schools are each outfitted with 30 to 40 surveillance cameras, as well as more-secure school entrances that give office personnel control of security doors. The new school entryways also funnel visitors to the office to prevent immediate access to school corridors.
Iberia Parish began the process of improving security at its schools about six years ago, which often required some creative redesigns of building entrances, said Iberia Parish schools Superintendent Dale Henderson.
“I think it was a proactive position that board and staff took in making our schools safe and secure,” he said. “Nothing prompted it. However, now that we’re seeing so many things going on in so many parts of the country, we’re fortunate that we had that funding with the support of the proposition.”
Most of the school system’s middle and high schools had camera equipment but required upgrades, so the bulk of the $2.5 million investment as part of a 2013 bond issue was directed to camera systems for elementary schools, he said.
“All schools now have 30 to 40 cameras strategically positioned throughout the school facility so the principal is able to monitor any part of the building from the front office at any given time,” Henderson said.
A glass partition also separates visitors from office personnel; the addition fulfills a request made by school staff.
In Lafayette Parish, some school principals have used their own school budgets to purchase safety cameras positioned at the front doors of their schools to control entry, schools Superintendent Donald Aguillard has said.
At David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy, the school controls access with a camera. Some, like Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy, have carved out a smaller office area for visitors to check in before they may enter the main office area or the main school corridor.
Principal Jeff Debetaz said he made renovations to his office area to add security doors as part of the $9 million expansion of his campus that included a new science classroom wing.
“I asked that it be worked into the construction,” Debetaz said of the added security features.
Previously, visitors could walk into the campus and have access to the school classrooms before reaching the office. Now, a set of doors blocks entrance to the other part of the school, requiring visitors to access a smaller office area, where a receptionist sits behind a glass-type partition.
There, visitors can sign in and then are buzzed into the larger administrative area and have access to the main school building.
“I requested that when we first moved into the school to make sure that the building was secure and people weren’t able to walk around campus,” Debetaz said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.