Strengthening school security

State Education Department approves funding for safety initiatives at Lynbrook campuses

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After a more than yearlong review, the Lynbrook School District’s plans to use hundreds of thousands of dollars for safety initiatives and security upgrades were recently approved by the State Education Department.

The funds came from the $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act, which was aimed at improving educational technology and security infrastructure in school districts across the state. New York voters approved the bond in 2014. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on June 3 that 46 districts and three special-education schools had their plans approved, totaling $34 million. Lynbrook’s projects will cost $843,860.

“The safety of our students and staff is taken very seriously in Lynbook,” Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak said. “As a district, we’re constantly reviewing and updating our procedures and processes to ensure a safe educational environment. The projects that will be funded through the Smart Schools Investment Plan will further strengthen our safety plans, and we’re thankful the money has finally been approved.”

The planned upgrades include a $241,900 project to install security vestibules, extra doors that will prevent visitors from entering school buildings unless they have been cleared for access.

There will also be $601,960 allocated for I.P.-based security infrastructure. The plan will:

—Establish a separate and distinct security network for the district.

—Install door-ajar alarms on all exterior doors.

—Add high-resolution cameras on all doors.

—Install swipe entrance systems at select doors.

—Add lock-down/lock-out strobes at all schools and exterior and interior cameras in all schools.

—Install security devices. 

—Establish a lock-down panic system in all schools.

Dr. Paul Lynch, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance, operations and information systems, said the district will lay out the money for the projects and will be reimbursed by the state within 90 days after paid receipts are submitted.

He noted that all plans have been approved, and district officials will meet with the architect this week before sending projects out to bid. Lynch said the lowest bidder will complete the security vestibules, but workers already employed by the district will do most of the electronic system work.

The approval follows a lengthy process for district officials. After the Smart Schools Bond Act was approved in 2014, school administrators conducted meetings with the district’s Health and Safety Committee. Then, in early 2015, the district’s Office of Information, Technology and Facilities consulted with an architect to develop a plan. The project’s scope was approved in the spring of 2016. Letters of intent for the projects from school officials were approved by the State Education Department in August 2016, and a preliminary plan was approved by the Health and Safety Committee that September. In October 2016, the preliminary plan was posted for public comment, and it was adopted after a public hearing that November.

District officials submitted their plans to the SED on March 2, 2017, but a department review board took more than a year to complete the expenditure review process, during which time state officials did not contact the district.

“The review board had not met since last fall, so this was the first opportunity to get the plan approved since then,” Lynch said, adding that administrators, elected officials, the Lynbrook Teachers Association and the PTA each contacted the SED to try and speed up the process.

Amid the delays, Burak wrote a letter to SED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on Feb. 16, two days after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., urging the SED to approve the funding. She emphasized the dire need to increase safety at all schools in light of the tragedy.

At the time, a SED representative told the Herald that the project was undergoing an “intensive internal review by the staff of the Smart Schools Review Board,” which works to ensure that the plans are reasonable, consistent with the requirements of the law and eligible for tax-exempt financing. In March, district officials discussed potential plans to move forward with installing the vestibules without the Smart Bond funding.

Board of Education President William Belmont said he was pleased that the funds were approved, but added that the long wait was frustrating. “You would think the state would want to approve this as quickly as possible,” he said.

During the delays, Assemblyman Brian Curran (R-Lynbrook) and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) each contacted the SED in February to try and expedite the process, citing parents’ safety concerns.

Kaminsky expressed satisfaction that the funding was approved. “This is a key step in ensuring that Lynbrook schools have access to the security technology necessary in today’s day and age,” he said. “It’s our duty in government to ensure that schools have the resources necessary to create a secure learning environment, and this Smart Schools Bond money will do just that.”

According to the initial timeline for the project, it was to begin with the installation of a new security network last spring and end with the installation of vestibules in the summer of 2019. Lynch said a new timeline would not be created until officials meet with the architect this week.