Warren OKs safety steps

VINCENT – The Warren Local Board of Education on Monday approved a pair of school safety measures and agreed to share the services of Superintendent Tom Gibbs with Fort Frye Local Schools for five years.

The board voted 5-0 to grant the Washington County Sheriff’s Office use of the former full-time athletic director’s office at Warren High School. The only cost to the district will be the production of 25 keys. The office will provide deputies in the area a 24-hour-a-day place to file reports and do other work without having to drive back to Marietta, while the district will see an increased law enforcement presence at the high school, which is adjacent to Barlow-Vincent Elementary.

“I’m very, very pleased with that,” Dunham Township resident Joanne Martin, 73, said at the start of the meeting.

Afterward, she said the deputies’ presence would improve safety because “everybody is aware of (them being) there.”

The district had been discussing such an arrangement with the sheriff’s office prior to the Dec. 14 murders of 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., by a gunman who then took his own life. Those events accelerated an agreement, and also moved up another project Gibbs described as “something that we should have done years ago.”

The board voted 5-0 to declare an emergency and waive competitive bidding for a $60,000 project to install cameras, card readers and remote entry mechanisms at all three elementary schools and buildings 1 and 6 at the high school.

“The elementary schools … essentially have left the doors unlocked,” Gibbs said. “Anybody can essentially come in anytime during the day.”

The board unanimously voted to award the contract to Security Electronics. By declaring an emergency, the board dispensed with the competitive bid process required for expenses over $25,000. Gibbs said this would allow him to start working with the company this morning.

Under the system all doors at the elementaries would be locked during the day, with access to visitors granted only through the main entrance, after that person pressed a buzzer and an employee saw them on video. Gibbs said staff would have to adjust to make sure someone was in the office at all times to answer the buzzer and check the screen.

Board member John Nichols said the latter part of the process was of the utmost importance.

“I know as people do their jobs they get complacent,” he said. “The buzzer doesn’t mean it’s an automatic system. Someone’s got to look at the camera.”

Gibbs said another advantage of the system is that key cards can be deactivated if they go missing or aren’t returned when an employee leaves the district, something that can’t be done with normal keys. He noted there will have to be some adjustment as the weather warms, when the air conditioner-less buildings become stuffy and doors are usually propped open.

All five board members also voted to approve an amended five-year contract for Gibbs to remain as the district’s superintendent on a “part-time” basis at an annual salary of $75,000, with the understanding he would also be employed in the same position by Fort Frye Local Schools for an equal amount. Gibbs began serving as superintendent of both districts in May, and he and members of the two boards have agreed the arrangement is working well.

“We’ve had six months to look at it, actually participating,” said Sidney Brackenridge, unanimously elected board president earlier in the meeting. “And everybody just basically felt pretty comfortable with it. I think probably both districts have seen opportunities and it just helps out both districts.”

Sharing the salaries and jobs of Gibbs and Treasurer Melcie Wells is expected to save Warren $70,000 a year in salaries and Fort Frye approximately $87,000.

Fort Frye board members Lisa Perry and Charlie Schilling attended the meeting and voiced their support for continuing the arrangement.

“I was the one that questioned this the most,” Schilling said of sharing a superintendent. “If you didn’t have the right people to do it, it might not work. But I believe we have the right people.”

Fort Frye is expected to vote on an amended contract for Gibbs at its Feb. 21 meeting.