If the Cranston school department were to get some of the $10 million pie that Governor Gina Raimondo announced she would hand out for school safety, Superintendent Jeannine Nota says she’d like to use it on short-term projects like upgrading locks, improving camera coverage, and improving the landscape around buildings.
The announcement of increased state funding for school safety came last week, when Raimondo said she was worried about her own kids’ safety when sending them to school and wanted to ensure that school buildings are safe and secure. The $10 million is immediately available to school districts across the state, coming from the state’s Capital Fund.
Nota said that Cranston is working on its application now, which includes specific projects that they would use the money for. She said she’s not sure now how much money they’ll receive, or when they’d receive it, but she’s hopeful to get all they need.
She said they’ve put themselves in a good position because roughly four years ago they developed a plan for safety improvements and what projects needed to get done. She said that with 26 buildings it has taken “careful planning and budgeting” to construct a safety improvements plan that in the past few years has included fire suppression system upgrades at some of the schools, which were paid for by bonds.
“We have been strategic in our safety planning, budgeting and project completion over the past few years,” Nota said in an email. “We are ahead of many districts that are just starting their upgrades now. As soon as we had those state safety assessments first done in 2013, we began our planning for improvements. However, any money that we can acquire from the state will help.”
She said that there are two types of projects that they can use state funding for – “one-time cost” projects and “repeated funding” projects.
Projects that require just a one-time expense include improvements to the door locks at schools, adding cameras for more widespread monitoring, cutting back on overgrown landscaping, and improving the lighting in the schools, the Superintendent said. She said that although these projects may seem easy, they are expensive and time consuming, and state funding is needed.
The repeated funding projects include hiring more support staff and investing in staff training/workshops in order to “address the mental health challenges students face,” Nota said. She said the planning and budgeting is more complicated when it comes to the funding for those types of safety improvement costs.
In the long-term, Nota said Cranston’s school buildings are “old and not easily modified,” so decisions won’t be made until a master plan from Fielding Nair International, an outside consulting firm Cranston Public Schools has hired to give them building improvement recommendations, is submitted. She said part of those recommendations will be how to make the entrances to buildings more secure.
In addition to this new funding that Cranston may receive from the state, Nota said they’d be continuing to conduct training in collaboration with the Cranston Police Department, which the police call A.L.I.C.E. training. Nota said that the district is “fortunate” to have a good relationship with the police department, adding that many school districts “do not work closely with local law enforcement and that makes this work much harder.”
Deputy police Chief Todd Patalano said that the police department works closely with the schools to ensure a “safe learning environment.”
“In collaboration with the school district, we have worked hard over the past several years to implement security protocols, education and physical security measures that make our school district one of the safest in the state,” Patalano said in an email. “Additional funding will allow for physical security upgrades that were part of the state school safety assessments completed in 2013 and 2016.”
He also referenced the $120,000 given to the police department’s budget by Mayor Allan Fung, which he said they’ll be using to add two additional officers to conduct security checks throughout the schools.
In addition, he said, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has provided $65,000 in state money, which Patalano said will be utilized for four brand new vehicles for the school resource officers to use around the city.
Nota also said that Cranston schools have also used additional funds to hire an a new social worker, who will be shared among schools, to be “a proactive part of our safety plans.” The funding for that new staff came from the annual budget passed in July.