Originally created 05/11/05

School safety buttons delayed by cost



Putting panic buttons in all Richmond County schools would cost more than a half-million dollars, a price tag that has caused the school board to delay installing one in each classroom.

School trustees voted last month to finish the project within a year to help teachers in the event of a disruption or a health emergency. But this week, they were shown the price: $546,000.

That money would have to come from the district's dwindling reserve fund, something trustee Johnny Hatney warned against during a committee meeting Monday.

"We just don't have the money," he said. "We only have enough (reserves) to operate for a month."

Taking the money would also make it difficult to balance the 2006 fiscal year budget, Superintendent Charles Larke said.

Trustee Barbara Pulliam, who introduced the project, has insisted the call buttons are needed as soon as possible because of the level of violence in schools spreading across the nation. As a retired teacher who once worked in a portable unit, she said she had no way of communicating with the front office. With the call buttons, teachers can alert front-office personnel to a problem and talk to them over a speaker.

On Monday, Mrs. Pulliam seemed reluctant to lengthen the installation timeline. But she agreed to wait 18 months to see whether voters pass the next round of special purpose local option sales tax, which could be used to fund the new devices.

If it doesn't pass, she wants the district to find the money somewhere.

"I know it's a lot of money, but we got to do what we got to do," she said. "Safety is priceless. All of these things that have been happening in the schools, it seems like this is necessary."

Meanwhile, school trustees agreed to immediately begin installing panic buttons in the Alternative School, portable units and those schools that have no call buttons at all.

There are 29 of 58 schools that need panic buttons in classrooms, portable units or both. The cheapest cost will be $1,575 to add a call-in switch to one portable unit at Lucy C. Laney High School. The highest cost is $50,375 for Hephzibah High School, where the school needs devices for 69 classrooms and six portable units.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.

School trustee and retired teacher Barbara Pulliam introduced the project.

NO PANIC

Richmond County schools that need panic buttons in classrooms, portable units or both:

HIGH SCHOOLS: A.R. Johnson Magnet, Butler, Hephzibah, Laney, Westside, Alternative School

MIDDLE SCHOOLS: East Augusta, Hephzibah, Langford, Morgan Road, Spirit Creek

ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS: Bayvale/Forest Hills, Blythe, Copeland, Garrett, Glenn Hills, Hains, Hornsby, Jamestown, Lamar, Merry, Milledge, National Hills, Sand Hills, Southside, Tobacco Road, C.T. Walker Magnet, Wheeless Road, Windsor Spring