Legislature approved a four-year, $40 million grant program for school security improvement projects in 2018 session


FARMINGTON — Four Corners school districts are eyeballing state grant funding for school security improvement projects. The state Legislature approved a grant program for such projects throughout New Mexico during the 2018 30-day session. Gov. Susana Martinez will decide whether to sign the bill into law by March 7. 

Senate Bill 239, introduced by Sen. George Munoz of Gallup, will create a $10 million yearly grant program that will be effective through fiscal year 2022. The grant program would be funded through public school capital outlay funding and would focus on school security improvement projects, including repair, renovation or replacement, according to the bill. 

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“The problem is we had 17 shootings in less than two months,” Munoz said on Monday. “We just need to end that trend that’s happening, and if we put security in place … hopefully, we can stop some of this from happening before it gets on to the campus.” 

If signed by Martinez, school districts will apply for grant funding, and public school facilities authorities will rank projects for the public school capital outlay council to decide which projects to allocate funding to, according to the bill. Districts will have three years to complete the projects or the grant money reverts to the fund. 

Schools have prioritized school security improvements in the past years, particularly following the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and with heightened awareness after attacks at schools since. Though the Dec. 7 Aztec High School shooting spurred legislative action in New Mexico, local school districts have been constantly reviewing school security and planning on improvement projects, even in times of tight budgets, local superintendents say. 

Aztec Municipal Schools

Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said school security improvement projects have been on the district’s radar long before the Dec. 7 shooting, and the district is working to start new projects as soon as funding is available. 

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Security improvement projects are in the planning stages for Lydia Rippey Elementary School, C.V. Koogler Middle School and Aztec High School, Carpenter said. Projects include restructuring Lydia Rippey’s main entrance to route visitors directly into the front office, relocating the walk-in gate so it lines up with the front office at Koogler, and installing additional fencing at Aztec High School. 

Carpenter said the Rippey project should be finished over the coming school year, and the district will use mill funding if grant funding is unavailable. 

“We will be applying for grants to update security issues around of campuses,” Carpenter said in an email, adding “given that we will not be bonding in our district probably until 2020, we are hopeful that we can receive some grant money to make some necessary safety improvements.” 

Bloomfield Municipal Schools 

Bloomfield schools has funding designated $251,415 toward school security projects in a security review process that began at the beginning of this school year, according to BMSD Superintendent Kim Mizell. Five schools and the district’s central office have capital outlay and general operational funding designated for projects like installing fencing and security cameras or replacing exterior doors.

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The largest project will happen at Bloomfield High School, which has $130,850 allocated for five security aspects, Mizell said. Perimeter fencing is the most expensive project throughout the district at $76,000. The district will also install a front door entry system, automated access systems and rolling gates for the bus lanes with key access automation at BHS. 

Other Bloomfield projects include installing security cameras and window tinting at Blanco Elementary School, gated bus lanes and new exterior doors at Naaba Ani Elementary School, window tinting at Bloomfield Early Childhood Center, and gated bus lanes and security cameras at Mesa Alta Junior High. The district will also upgrade and modify gate locks throughout the district and increase security at the district’s central office and warehouse, according to Mizell. 

Central Consolidated Schools

Central Consolidated School District has also evaluated school security across all its schools and has identified an estimated $2.7 million in potential security improvement projects, according to CCSD spokeswoman Renee Lucero. 

“A large majority of our schools need at least one major safety feature, including man-catch doors, cameras, fencing and/or new door installation,” Lucero said in an email, also mentioning improvements to emergency personnel communication platforms. 

Lucero said the district will apply for SB239 funding “with great determination,” and any projects unfunded by the state grant program will be prioritized and paid for through the district’s maintenance and construction or operational funds over the course of "multiple years." 

Farmington Municipal Schools 

Farmington Municipal Schools have finished or are in the process of completing significant projects that include school security improvements, such as the new Farmington High School campus that was opened in January, renovations at McCormick Elementary School and a recently approved renovation at Country Club Elementary

However, there are six schools in the district that “have not been renovated in their main entrance” to comply with modern safety standards, according to Phil Valdez, deputy superintendent for Farmington schools. 

Valdez said the district will install cameras and buzz-in systems at the main entrance of six schools — Ladera Del Norte, McKinley and Mesa Verde elementary schools; Heights and Mesa View middle schools; and Farmington Special Preschool. The systems should be installed by spring break. 

“We’re going to do a quick fix with the intent that we’re going to pursue state funding when that money becomes available to do the bigger work,” FMSD Superintendent Eugene Schmidt said, adding that the district has not yet developed a priority list for which school improvement projects will come first. 

Other legislation 

The 2018 Legislature also approved Senate Memorial 8, which was introduced by Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and requested a study be commissioned regarding gun violence, including suicide and school shootings. 

The memorial asks the PED and the Legislative Education Study Committee to study and evaluate potential solutions to the issues and that the report be provided to the legislative education study committee by October 2018.

The Legislature also considered two bills — Senate Bill 124 and House Bill 130 — regarding school security during the 2018 session that were not approved. The bills were a precursor and an alternative, respectively, to SB239. 

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com. 

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