Burlington County government is leading the way when it comes to enhancing the safety and security of county schools with a $20 million grant program that is the first of its kind in the state and a model for the nation, said Freeholder Director Kate Gibbs today.
“As an elected official, I refuse to standby and do nothing while we wait for the next Parkland or Sandy Hook,” said Director Gibbs, who was joined by members of law enforcement and many Burlington County School Superintendents at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly. “That is why today we are launching a $20 million county grant program that encourages all twenty-one public high schools in Burlington County to invest in making their school buildings safer and more secure. As far as we know, this program is the first of its kind in the state, and maybe in the nation. If so, we are proud to be the model for how we can better protect students and teachers from unthinkable tragedy.”
Gibbs said the voluntary program will require each participating school district to make grant applications to the county and agree to a security evaluation by a highly-qualified architectural firm. The county will fund capital enhancements identified in the evaluations, which may include things like: new entrance vestibules, scan card systems, portable screening devices, panic alarms, entry buzzers and security cameras, to name a few. The program will not dictate or mandate safety procedures, staff guidelines, or other considerations best left up to the individual school districts.
“Our school buildings should be safe places where students can learn, educators can teach, and parents can feel comfortable sending their children every morning – anything less is unacceptable,” said Director Gibbs, who noted the $20 million investment equates to half of the county’s annual capital budget, and that the county finance team felt confident it could prioritize this initiative now and defer smaller projects so there would be no impact to county property taxes.
Gibbs added that, according to published reports, there have been 300 shooting incidents at schools across America in the last five years, with far too many occurring at high schools. She said the county would seek to expand its grant program to middle and elementary schools if funding is available after every high school had the opportunity to apply.