The world of K-12 education brings to mind the archetypal images of playgrounds and lunchboxes, marching bands and football games. But clearly the “dear old golden rule days” of school have not been immune to pressures that are giving security directors greater concern and increased responsibility, even at the lower grade levels.


Security issues that once were observed only in high schools are now also showing up in elementary schools — unwanted visitors, child custody disputes played out on school grounds, student-on-student conflict, and the potential for violent behavior outside of normal school hours such as during athletic events and other activities.

The need for security is increasing. While public grant money is becoming more difficult to obtain, some see opportunity in private grants and endowments. There is no shortage of technology solutions for K-12 school security. Network video technology facilitates mobile surveillance and sharing of video with law enforcement. Visitor management systems that provide background checks through a database and RFID tagging of students are some of the more proactive and progressive solutions.

A common theme among security practitioners and security providers is what’s working as far as effective solutions, and how do we get the attention of those who can fund it?

Sister publications Security and SDM brought together professionals in K-12 education security — two practitioners and four systems integrators — who specialize in finding solutions to the security issues in this sector. In this roundtable discussion, moderated by Security Editor Diane Ritchey and SDM Editor Laura Stepanek, they discuss the unique needs and the technology solutions.

Diane Ritchey: Tell us about some of the challenges that you have with securing funding for security projects or upgrades for your school.

Joe Perchetti: Unfortunately, we don’t qualify for many grants, as this is quite an affluent community. Typically if something is presented to the school board due to a need from our building principals, the board is supportive of it and they’ll delegate that responsibility to the providing department. But it’s difficult for us to be awarded grants due to the nature of the environment we’re in.

Diane Ritchey: Do you get any help from private companies or others that have relationships with the school district?

Joe Perchetti: We do have help; it’s pretty much just face time. I have a fabulous maintenance department where if I need to start a surveillance system from nuts and bolts to a finished product, we can do it all in house – get the guys out in the field laying wire, installing the cameras and placing them back at the head end where I’ll finish up at the server and collect IP addresses through our IT department. And then I get the software on key individuals’ laptops and desktops for their viewing and review of archived data.

John Weicker: You’ve got external and internal funding. Our internal funding – we have roughly $605,000 a year that we use on personnel and we’re down to only about $85,000 a year that we can spend on

Security funding, even before the economic crisis we’re in, was difficult anyway. I just looked at a document I got this morning where the American Association of School Administrators just came out with the tenth part of a 10-part series on surveying school administrators across the country on what they’re looking for as far as finances. They’re not looking at any help with anything through the 2012-2013 school year. So the funding issue for all of us in security is really
getting tight.

Externally there always were a lot of grants and they’ve really cut those back on the federal level. In 2004, we got a $333,000 emergency response crisis management grant for Allen County. I heard from someone in Indianapolis yesterday who has had to cut 40 grants. The funding issue is really going to be a challenge in the future.

Of course, that being said, I’m sure today school corporations probably found funding to provide security guards for board meetings. (Editor’s note: The roundtable discussion took place soon after the shots were fired at the School Board Meeting in Panama City, Fla).

Diane Ritchey: Posing the same question to the integrators, how are you helping schools find and secure funding?

David O’Neill: With the economy it’s just getting harder and harder. I know a lot of different programs are being cut even within the school districts where my family and I live.

One of the best routes had always been grants; there are four or five different types of grants and then local grants, as well. We can assist with that. We do have some grant writers on staff that can help.

One of the other things that we found that has helped is leasing options with the equipment. That way, instead of being one large capital project that a school district has to fund, they can lease it and spread it out over several years’ worth of budget rather than one chunk at a time.

Tom Hruby: We try and take the approach where sometimes the manufacturer will have some fund and grant writers or people that are familiar with those types of things to help us help our school districts here. Or locally we try and help them with their applications when they’re applying for the grants. We try and help educate our local officials on what’s available and what might possibly be used to provide some solutions for them.

Diane Ritchey: Do you feel like it helps the cause for a school district to have someone on staff that can write the grant application?

Tom Hruby: That’s what we see here in the Omaha area. In the past, one of our larger school districts actually declined federal funding because the task of filling out the paperwork they felt was beyond something either they wanted to do or their capability to do. We’ve had a smaller school district in the area that spends a lot of time applying for those grants, and they have been successful.

Ben Neikirk: There a couple different scenarios in the south Texas area. Fortunately, for us we’re still in growth mode so we’re able to help assist different school districts budget for bond referendums, and bonds are still passing here, which is a good thing for our economy.

We’ve helped with that type of scenario as well as if certain districts aren’t familiar with purchasing programs such as the Texas Cooperative Purchasing Network or TCPN. We’ve helped guide them towards TCPN so they’re able to get grant help from TCPN and/or purchase through TCPN on that. It’s basically a purchasing network so they’re able to get this without going through the bid process because it’s already bid out.

Kim Ballew: We have one unique advantage here in Iowa in that we have several casinos. They’re not only willing and eager to help the school districts, but the schools can apply specifically for technology and even more specifically for security technology. They’re able to secure money from the casinos for that. In addition to some of the law enforcement grants — I can see that those have tightened up some.

Diane Ritchey: What are some of the security issues that you think are unique to the lower grades – K-8 – versus the upper grades of 9-12?

Joe Perchetti: Our high school has open campus where children are able to apply and have their parents sign off on permission, so that if they’re unassigned to a class and they’re within the junior and senior years they’re able to leave campus to get lunch. Some of them even establish their schedules during their final year so that they can leave school a couple hours early and then just go right off to some employment.

However, all of our schools [were] retrofitted. As you enter the building all the exterior doors are shut; they’re either keyed or we use electronic access so that staff and individuals can gain access to the building. And they’re all covered by surveillance systems. When a visitor enters the main entrance you’re funneled immediately into the main office or to a receptionist desk where you’re greeted, you’re challenged; you’re questioned about what your business is. They take your identification, send it through a visitor management program that checks that information against a national database of child offenders and from there we’re able to allow the person access to the building or escort them to their location.

John Weicker: Well, I feel like maybe we run a prison system here because we don’t have open campuses. We do a lot of the same things Joe mentioned. All of our buildings are secure, have electronic access; people have to buzz in. We do not have the system he described – the instant background check.

One thing I’ve observed is the separation between lower and upper grades as far as security needs is shrinking a great deal with passing years. We have a lot more involvement with younger kids, with all kinds of issues that typically people just wouldn’t think would be in elementary schools. Some students in the elementary grades bring weapons to school.

I think the biggest thing that I’ve seen as far as the difference between elementary and secondary, that I still am very, very concerned about, is the whole issue of parental custody. One of the challenges we have – we do it manually now and maybe that’s something down the road we need –  is to have a constant upgrade on who has allowance to see a child, or when a kid can leave and can’t leave and with whom. It just gets to be a mess because a lot of times parents will bring this to the school instead of taking care of it away from school and this issue is increasing across the board.

Diane Ritchey: Dave, describe a typical solution that Ingersoll Rand has recently deployed for both lower grade and upper grade schools and one that you think was particularly innovative and successful.

David O’Neill: Generally CCTV [is deployed] for watching all the corridors, exterior areas, around the playgrounds, etc. With network capabilities it can be viewed in multiple different offices other than just at one desk where a receptionist sits.

One of the things that plays into the earlier question on cost is we’ve been successful with using card access for buildings with both online and off-line locks; the off-line locks being a much cheaper solution but you can manage the database along with the online locks through electronic card access. This helps to cut the cost of an installation as well as still enable the control of only having one database to deal with.

Tom Hruby: Something that’s worked well for SEI and our market here is that by offering a hosted video solution we were able to reduce the upfront costs for the school district and provided some benefits to them, especially in the remote connectivity area where as long as they had a valid password they’re able to access that video basically from any machine that’s connected to the Internet.

I think it really goes back to reducing that upfront cost – reducing the maintenance required for the servers, the NVRs – with that video being hosted off-site.

Ben Neikirk: For our K-12 clients we provide intrusion, access control and CCTV. The biggest difference that we’ve seen between the lower grades and the upper grades is on the high school level. Since the schools are much larger, there are a lot of areas for students to congregate. Percentage-wise we see a lot more cameras going into the high school than we do in the lower grades, though most of our lower grades have bulked up on the amount of cameras going in over the past couple of years.

The schools in Texas are funded by the amount of students that are in seats – meaning how many students are attending that day. It’s a daily task to take attendance and submit that to the state, and then the state provides them funding. We were able to capture students that were marked absent and actually find those students within the school and see about a 10 to 13 percent increase in the amount of students marked absent… and they were able to recover funding for those students that may have been counted absent. At attendance a student could be down in the bathroom or coming from the band hall or what not, and they don’t count them. This way we were able to track them in the building and as long as they were within the grounds of the school they were able to get paid for them.

Kim Ballew: I would say the technology on the camera side has emerged tremendously. It’s been a complete revolution in that we’re now predominately IT and the technology that’s wrapped into that allows you to be selective on camera views which then trickles down to the fact that maybe in an elementary or a junior-high environment we don’t need a lot of resolution. But as we get into the high school type of environment you need higher resolution. We may need to put cameras that can give us 180 degrees of a parking lot and we can go up to 10 megapixels in resolution. There’s a lot of ability to capture license plates, car makes and activities from several hundred feet away, both in day and night. And so that old term of “CCTV” pretty much denotes an analog-type camera with a very limited viewing capability.

On the end user side, if you’re either bidding to put cameras in to replace systems I would strongly encourage you to look at what’s out there in the IP sector. The ability to switch cameras, the ability to start at a reasonable budget and expand and grow into that virtually unlimited (demand) your cameras capability is greatly enhanced.

Diane Ritchey: It’s very difficult to secure a school during the day, but then there are events being held on the school property after-hours and even on the weekends. Are you responsible for those types of events?

Joe Perchetti: Fortunately, most of our schools are newer construction so we’ve used the CPTED models with our architects. Over the past 20 years, we have communities from Scouts to township use – in fact, we call our high school “the airport” because there could be activities there seven days a week from 5:00 a.m. till 11:00 p.m. Ninety-eight percent of that is township or school district usage; it’s few and far between that we would have an outside group rent our facility for a meeting.

Over the years we’ve been able to improve our facility-request procedures, the applications and so on with the building automation systems, improvements to surveillance and electronic access; we’re able to schedule doors through scheduling software.

Our officers plan their patrols so they can ensure the place opens up properly. We turn the lights on, pull the bleachers out, pull the back board down and so on; the heat is scheduled, the air is scheduled. Even parking lot lights are scheduled according to how the customer, in a sense, would prefer it and how we would prefer it if we were the customer.

We’ve also included their responsibilities in the application process. The local taxpayers, certainly is their right to use their facilities because they are “their facilities.” We remind them that just because it’s your facility, you’re not leaving 30 pizza boxes thrown into whatever corner after your party. Just tidy up a little bit or they’re going to risk losing that privilege.

So with school-related activities and the challenges, it’s evolved quite nicely. Stuff still comes up but for the most part we’ve got our i’s dotted and our t’s crossed.

John Weicker: I think we’re still trying to cross our t’s and dot our i’s out here. As a public institution, of course the parents and the community think, “Well it’s a public school and we have a right to come in.” But we also have the overriding responsibility to ensure the safest, most secure environment for the kids not only during the day but when other things are taking place.

Athletic events and graduations and those kinds of things are something all by themselves. Take the issue of using schools as polling places. We had some real issues with this. We finally just got through to the public – and the community backed it after we finally explained it to them – we do not use any schools in Allen County, Ind., for voting sites. A lot of times people don’t even think about that, but people who have been convicted of many different types of crimes still have a right to vote. 

In our schools these athletic events always have the potential to turn into a really large mess. We have a lot of gang involvement here in Fort Wayne. I think it’s kind of sad, due to security issues, that some schools around the country aren’t even holding football games at 8 o’clock on a Friday night anymore. They feel for security reasons they have to hold them at 9 o’clock in the morning. I’ve talked to some security directors, and at times schools don’t even know where they’re playing that day due to concerns about who might show up, and that somebody might get shot in a parking lot.  I feel this is totally unacceptable in America.

Diane Ritchey: Are any of the integrators working on this?

David O’Neill: There are solutions to address things like this – whether its fence protection or other types of perimeter protection such as microwaves, etc. But when you start getting into some of these more robust systems, finding that funding is very difficult.

In a couple of instances we’ve done phased approaches. We started very small, but built it so it was expandable so over the long term you could reach an end goal that satisfied the community, the school and it worked out pretty well.

One situation we had, we actually did a high fence around a soccer field with gates that were locked through the access control system and the entrance points were controlled during games so people couldn’t get in and out.

The second phase of that were cameras around the perimeter to view both the field and the parking lot so you could see if anybody was loitering in the parking lot during a game so an officer could be dispatched to check it out or break it up.

Kim Ballew: One thing we’ve seen is if you have any type of camera system already in place you are allowing your local law enforcement access to that. That can be either viewed remotely with a PC, or there are a lot of apps today that it can be viewed on iPads and smart phones. If you give law enforcement the ability to log in and see what’s happening, I think that’s an enhancement that really isn’t any added cost per se, and it just gives that handshake and that permission for there to be more law enforcement direct connection to that functionality.

John Weicker: Bingo! I think that’s an excellent point. Sharing that information with your local law enforcement people is just critical to every facet of attempting to secure schools. My one question on that is: We share a lot of information with our local law enforcement. One of the problems at school is principals get paranoid, because they don’t even want me seeing what’s going on in their cafeteria let alone law enforcement.

Diane Ritchey: Do you think principals get personal because they think it’s a reflection of their school if you see something bad?

John Weicker:Yes, a lot of them do. I am an educator, but they’re a different breed when it comes to this whole issue of security. What you have to constantly hammer to schools is that you can have the finest curriculum, the best teachers, everything in the world can be top notch, but if those children go home at night and are telling their parents they don’t feel safe in school, then you can cancel Christmas because they’re going someplace else.

Diane Ritchey: What’s on your wish list in terms of new or emerging technologies or something else not specific to that?

David O’Neill: The big wish, I think probably for everybody, is some funding to loosen up. Technology changes quickly and I’m seeing with some of the platforms that the backward compatibility with older stuff is getting less and less as technology continues to advance. To be able to bring old and new truly together and be cost-effective in doing so – you can gradually upgrade or change a facility system rather than having to do a full-blown upgrade – I think would be one of the things I’d like to see.

Tom Hruby: I’d like to see video analytics or intelligent video continue to improve to get their target rates down and hopefully, along with getting better, to become a little bit more economical so we can start to use that technology a little more widespread.

Ben Neikirk: I’m going to be a little bit of an advocate for the K-12 market. I see a lot of cameras now being input in IP type scenarios for all the districts and the licensing that comes with that can get quite expensive over time, especially if you’ve got a very large school district of 5,000-plus cameras. I’d like to see most of these IP camera or VMS manufacturers come up with a more cost-effective way of doing the mass licensing for these cameras.

Kim Ballew: My wish list would be that we would have more ability for the different pieces to integrate. I’m talking about the technology itself, the understanding between vendors and educators. The ability for everyone to grab a hold of what technology is doing and where it’s going and then for all the individual pieces to merge, including the communication piece in the community. With all of those things combined, I think we’re going to have the best scenario possible.

Joe Perchetti: I’d like to see the availability and cost-effectiveness with PCs and laptops, of built-in biometrics rather than a Kryptonite cable holding something to a desk where it easily can be popped off or unglued. We need self-encrypted hard drives, even mobile-device security so we can better educate students after they find out that their book bags have been removed and the contents have been gone through and then they find the book bag later on in the bottom of a trash can, all their equipment defaced. It’s 2011 – a lot of students are walking around with $500 phones, iPods, graphing calculators, in addition to their text books or what they have in their wallets.

John Weicker: My wish list is that we could have some funding so the schools could purchase some of the equipment that would help us all to better secure learning environments for kids. The sad thing for me is, I think everybody here realizes we’d have all kinds of funding available to us if we had a huge school related tragedy tomorrow. We’ve got to be able to convince people of the importance of all this technology. We must be proactive instead of continuing to be reactive to this critical element of education. Also, we all must never forget that just as important as funding for physical security equipment, is the simple trust that must be developed between students, parents and school personnel. The simple willingness to share information with administrators that are trusted to protect their sources, have made it possible for many potential tragic incidents to be stopped before they ever took place. 

The Roundtable Participants

Kim Ballew operated his own business with wife, Vicky, for 29 years, before entering the security industry in 1999 soon specializing in IP and high-definition cameras. They sold their business to Security Equipment Inc. in early 2010. Kim joined SEi as senior sales consultant.

Tom Hruby is executive vice president of Security Equipment Inc., a systems integrator based in Omaha, Neb. He has responsibility for 160 employees in four offices. An ASIS member, he has 30 years of experience in the security industry, the last 23 with SEi. In this capacity he has designed integrated security solutions for Omaha Public Schools, Millard Public Schools and District 66 schools.

Benjamin Neikirk, vice president – business development for Schaumburg, Ill.-based Convergint Technologies, is responsible for the business development, sales and operations support of Convergint’s Houston office. He has 24 years of experience providing infrastructure solutions for comfort, security, life safety, and energy efficiency. He has had a successful record of operations management, sales management and project management on large complex projects. Many of Convergint’s key projects under his leadership have included school districts.

Dave O’Neil is director of operations, North – Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies. He is a 15-year veteran of the organization, previously serving as a district general manager and a branch manager.

Joe Perchetti is security supervisor for the Radnor Township School District in Radnor Township, Pa., where he is responsible for preserving the well-being of the school district’s students and staff, maintaining a safe and secure environment, and protection of district property, while sustaining an open environment conducive to learning with 12 security officers and 24-hour coverage. This includes more than 700 professional and supporting staff and nearly 3,900 students within seven buildings. 

John H. Weickeris the security director of the Fort Wayne Community Schools, in Fort Wayne, Ind., the second largest school corporation in the state of Indiana with an enrollment of 31,568 students. He spent five years as a classroom teacher and then 13 years as a building-level administrator. In the early 1980s he was involved in assisting Indiana State Police and other Indiana law enforcement agencies in setting up undercover drug investigations in 11 different high schools in the state.