At its regular meeting Feb. 19, he told the board that the district had to perform a balancing act between security and cost.
“All the schools across the nation are working on this problem,” he said. “And, I will tell you up front, it has no ultimate solution that a Newtown shooting won’t happen in our community.
“Most of our schools were built in the 1950s using an open campus policy,” he said.
That policy remains in place today.
“We’ve added wings on every campus,” he said. “And they all have access points (doors).”
Rodriguez said he regretted that it now was necessary to find ways to restrict access.
“Teachers are teaching. They shouldn’t have to worry about who is outside the window,” he said. “But we at the district are having to worry about it,” he said, warning the board that any increase in security is expensive.
As an example, he said that installing a card-reading system at only two BISD campuses could run as high as $400,000.
Last Wednesday, in the gym at FMC Elementary, Rodriguez brought the point home by inviting Guardian Security Solutions — a company based in Lubbock — to brief school principals and administrators on state-of-the-art security systems.
The company has installed systems in 195 Texas counties.
To illustrate its various systems, sales consultant John Greeson used a $25,000 golf cart equipped with more than a dozen cameras and three flat-screen TV monitors.
Greeson explained that current software allowed for one person to monitor dozens of cameras at many schools simultaneously.
The cameras and accompanying software are so sophisticated that some cameras detect motion, automatically record what is happening and send an email or a text message to alert security personnel.
Some cameras record in infrared, providing surveillance in areas that are completely dark.
Another aspect is a video system that allows an operator to search for stolen or missing items. For instance, the operator finds the images of a laptop captured on video before the laptop disappeared. An operator draws a circle around the image; the computer then scans hundreds of subsequent hours of video and will match the image of the laptop if it appears.
But despite the proverbial bells and whistles, school architect David Brown told the crowd of 14, “camera systems only tell a person what has happened after the fact.”
“That’s correct,” Greeson said. “The chance of someone spotting someone with a gun as it is happening is practically zero.
“However,” he continued, “if you can control access, you can keep the danger outside. Access is the first stage in any security system.”
Under most access systems, each student carries a card with a magnetic stripe that is encoded with information about what times the student is allowed to enter the building and where he is allowed to go once inside.
Doors are kept locked by a magnetic system that requires 1,200 pounds to open.
But it has its weak points, BISD Superintendent Dr. Sue Thomas pointed out.
“Having an access card for each student would be a nightmare,” she said. “The kids would lose them, the teachers would lose them. Or, they would lend their cards to their friends.”
Thomas said she preferred a biometrics system in which a student’s fingerprints would allow or disallow entry.
Greeson said he accepts her concern, but pointed out that biometrics systems were considerably more expensive, and subject to maintenance breakdowns because of dirt and wear.
Thomas suggested an access system keyed by a student’s cellphone.
“Students aren’t supposed to have them on while they are at school, but the kids are going to have them on despite the rule.”
He said that since the live shooter incident at Newtown, his company was barely keeping up with the demand. The greatest demand from school districts has been panic systems, by which a teacher can push a button and summon law enforcement officers.
“In our business, we hate it when something like Newtown happens,” he said. “If you wait until something like that happens, then you have waited too late.”
Owing to the expense of installing access measures and cameras at every BISD school, Greeson said that most school districts in the state upgrade their security in phases.
Each magnetic door control runs between $2,500 and $2,700. Scores of high-definition, digital cameras cost $200,000 or more.
Greeson said that each surveillance system his company installs has a life expectancy of 10 years.
“You start seeing hard drives and power supplies go bad after five years; in another five you are usually looking at replacing the system because technological advances have made the system obsolete.”
Afterward, Rodriguez said he hoped that in addition to bringing BISD up to date about the latest technology, the demonstration also brought the potential costs into focus.
A week earlier, he had warned BISD board members, “At some point, I’m going to be asking you how much do you want to spend?”
As he left FMC to return to the administration building, around 400 elementary students at FMC were kept safe only by a small sign warning any visitor, after walking through the unlocked front door, to be sure to check in at the office.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.