Southgate and Sumner awarded safety grants for security upgrades

Published 8:03 am Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Efforts to make schools safer for students and staff got a hefty boost from the state to improve security measures.

Southgate Elementary School and Sumner Elementary School were both awarded grants to improve student safety, according to Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL) in a news release. Sumner received $72,078 and Southgate received $46,782.

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Last week, the Minnesota Department of Education announced that 90 Minnesota public school districts or charter schools, were awarded school safety grants to be used for security and violence prevention improvements at 123 building sites statewide.

Funds that Southgate and Sumner are receiving can be used to pre-design, design, construct, furnish and equip school buildings, including renovating and expanding existing buildings. The MDE received 1,187 applications that requested $255.5 million (more than 10 times the available amount of funding).

“Students and teachers clearly need more support to ensure our kids are safe,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a statement. “When we have more than 1,000 schools asking for over $250 million in funding to secure their buildings, we must respond with urgency … a more comprehensive approach, including efforts to improve school climate, expand mental health services, and enact common-sense gun safety measures is needed.”

Sumner Principal Sheila Berger

All schools in the Austin Public Schools were eligible to receive the grant, but Sumner and Southgate were both chosen to receive funding from the state. Administrators from both elementary schools said this type of grant was highly competitive.

“I knew it was a long shot,” said Sumner Principal Sheila Berger. “I knew there was not a great amount of money set aside from the Legislature from the number of schools that applied. To have two from our district is very lucky.”

Southgate Principal Katie Baskin also stated the grant would help provide enhanced security to the existing measures currently in effect at the schools. Several new features that Sumner and Southgate would consider would be to add additional secured entrances and opt for more keyless doors that require IDs or cards to gain entry.

“Obviously, we’re super excited,” Baskin said. “Sometimes, there are large pots of money put out by the state of Minnesota, and would we actually ever be chosen was uncertain. The district’s leadership did an excellent job. Brian Beasley and David Rezny did an excellent job. Any time we can improve safety and add security for students and families is a step in the right direction.”

Safer for kids

Rezny, Assistant Ellis Middle School principal and chairman of the district’s safety committee, had worked alongside Brian Beasley, director of facilities, on applying for the safety grant.

He was first made aware of the money by Superintendent David Krenz, who had heard about $25 million being awarded to Minnesota for security upgrades in efforts to make schools safer.

Southgate Principal Katie Baskin

“(Beasley) and I got together, discussed what we needed to do and the requirements that were needed,” Rezny said. “We needed to talk to contractors for quotes and spent many days together to gather narratives from our principals to get our stuff in order.”

After hearing Southgate and Sumner received the necessary upgrades through the grant, Rezny explained that the grant process was very competitive and that schools were given random numbers as well as priority on low and high need.

“I’m a little disappointed that Ellis didn’t get chosen,” he joked. “But, we got happy that out of the eight schools we put in, two were chosen. ….it was a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.”

It’s uncertain as to when exactly the projects would be completed, but Rezny anticipated that the timeframe would need to be as soon as possible, and during a time when the learning environment wouldn’t be disrupted for students.

As for the grant, it appeared that this could have been a “one-time deal” and may not be available again. However, Rezny had hope that there would be more chances to get more funding for school safety.

“I’m really hoping the state will see the legitimate things for school safety,” he said. “We want to make our schools safer for kids.”