In June, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the South-Western City School District an emergency response grant for $248,000.
Now the district has used that money to bring on a project director to implement a safety and security program. That project director, Gary Sigrist, addressed the board of education at a special meeting on Sept. 22.
Sigrist explained that the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant was awarded to 92 districts across the nation. It is funded through Homeland Security. South-Western was one of four in the state of Ohio to receive the funds.
"Grants are not what they used to be," said Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise. "They are more competitive. We are lucky to have this."
The grant money will be secured for 18 months. It includes the salary for Sigrist, training, equipment, consulting and evaluating. It may be used to coordinate with local emergency responders, conduct drills and exercises, and train staff and students on emergency response.
Sigrist said currently he and district leaders are reviewing the weaknesses in the system. He explained that staff would be trained on preventative measures as well as events that cannot be prevented, such as the recent windstorm.
"The windstorm could not be prevented, but the next time it happens, we will be prepared," said Sigrist.
Sigrist laid out project goals for the board. He said he plans to develop a partnership and process with emergency responders that will support "meaningful and ongoing" planning for local and regional emergencies. He said the district would also develop an "all-hazard" emergency response and crisis management plan for all school buildings.
"I want South-Western City Schools to be a bench mark to other schools," said Sigrist.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling said this program would strengthen the district’s crisis planning, which means parents can rest easy.
"Nothing is more important to Americans than the safety of their children," said Spelling.
The district was notified of the grant one day after the June 3 bomb scare at Pleasant View Middle School.
"The district staff should have been much more aware of what was going on in that situation," said Wise. "This project would help all district employees know the Pleasant View plan for an emergency and evacuation."
In the incident, an explosive device went off in a trash can of the school’s cafeteria around lunch time. The students were evacuated and transported first to Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park then to Westland High School. The district worked with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and Pleasant Township Fire Department.
No one was injured in the incident and there was no damage to the school.
Sigrist said the emergency management project would help the district get a better handle on situations like the bomb scare.
Damage due to Ike
"No site was unscathed," said Mark Waller, property services coordinator for the district.
He told the board of education that 17 buildings in the district lost power because of the high winds on Sept. 14. The district used up a calamity day on Sept. 15. It took three days for power to be restored to all the buildings that lost it, though most were restored by the evening of Sept. 16.
Waller said there was some major damage. Two baseball dugouts at Franklin Heights High School were destroyed.
"They were completely leveled," said Waller.
The dugouts were new to the school and Waller reported that they would try to have them rebuilt prior to the winter.
The gym roof at Prairie Lincoln Elementary School was blown loose. The Darbydale Distribution Center is missing siding and roofing; modular classrooms were damaged at Norton Middle School and there was damage to the greenhouse at the Career Academy.
Waller explained that the district will submit an application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement on the damages. He also said the district put in over 1,000 hours of labor. All maintenance personnel and head custodians were brought in to evaluate the conditions. Vendors were contracted to provide tree removal and restore the fire and security alarms.
Some say it could have been much worse.
"I am delighted that the district was only down for one day," said Board President Cathy Johnson.
Tim Cox, the district’s supervisor for transportation, said they are looking into a new radio system for the buses. It is called Bus Radio.
Cox said the driver would not choose the station. The system plays age appropriate music and four minutes of public service announcements. It has young radio personalities that aim to keep the students interested.
"It can hold the kids’ attention," said Cox.
The radio system also has hands free 9-1-1 and a GPS system. Cox said the GPS system would allow the district to answer community calls.
"If a parent calls to complain that a driver did not stop at her child’s stop, then we can look it up and verify," Cox explained.
The GPS system can also tell if a driver is speeding and the location of the bus.
Cox said there is no cost for the installation of Bus Radio and there is no cost for service. There is a five-year contract.
Cox also noted that similar systems for large fleets, like SWCS, could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bus Radio is mostly funded through advertising, which is also age appropriate.
"This really is a win-win situation," said Cox. "It helps the driver because it keeps the kids entertained and it saves us money."