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Potsdam school board forming ad-hoc committee to examine security issues

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POTSDAM - The Potsdam Central School District Board of Education is forming an ad-hoc committee to examine safety and security issues within the district.

The committee will include community members, administrators, teachers, board of education members, and representatives from the rescue squad, as well as the police and fire departments.

And should such people be available, Board of Education President Christopher C. Cowen, who suggested forming the committee, said he would also like to see experts on physical and institutional security also involved.

“Recent events with the school shooting and the bomb scare that followed highlighted the need to take a closer look at Potsdam,” Mr. Cowen said. “We live in Potsdam, New York. It’s very safe and we don’t have any issues. I think the folks in Connecticut thought the same thing.”

Lawrence Avenue Elementary Principal Larry B. Jenne, who chairs the district’s already existing safety committee said each of the building’s principals have put together a list of things, both short term and long term, they would like to see to improve security in their buildings.

As Mr. Jenne began to discuss those lists, board of education member Frederick C. Stone Jr. said that’s a conversation he would rather not have in public.

“I would rather not have our vulnerabilities discussed in open session in front of the public,” he said, to which Mr. Jenne replied, “That’s fine.”

Mr. Cowen advised principals that if there were items on their lists that could be done now, not to wait for the committee to be formed and begin meeting.

“There are things that aren’t going to cost money, aren’t going to require a change in policy or building modifications” he said. “If it’s something that can happen immediately, follow the chain of command and don’t wait for the committee,” he said, adding, the committee could review any changes made after they have been implemented.

As the committee’s work progresses, Mr. Cowen said it’s likely the board’s program and policy committee will also get involved.

“We’re going to have to change the way we do business,” he said. “We’ve got some work ahead of us and I’m looking forward to digging in and getting us to the top of the heap where Potsdam is used to being.”

Mr. Stone volunteered to serve on the committee, which may or may not end up being chaired by Mr. Cowen.

“We’ll figure things out and make it official in the next couple of days,” Mr. Cowen said.

Mr. Jenne also discussed a new SMS (short message system) recently implemented by the district.

“We tested it today and only 27 of them came back,” he said, referring to the test message sent Tuesday.

“Twenty-seven out of 100 isn’t bad,” he said, adding they’ll touch base with the 27 people whose messages were returned to see why and possibly update their information.

Parents and students who would like to sign up for the service provide the district with their cell phone number and service provider. Then the district can send a mass message that each participant will receive via text message.

“We’ll use that system for delays, cancellations or whatever we see fit,” Mr. Jenne said.

The SMS system and how to use it is also something that the ad-hoc committee examine once it’s formed, he said noting that since some students are on the receiving end of the messages they may have to be careful with what is sent out and when.

“We have to figure out what it would be appropriate to use that for,” he said. “We’ll use it discreetly, but it has potential.”

Something else with potential could be a list of security upgrades that do cost money.

Since the district is in the midst of a building project, Mr. Cowen said should any money remain once the project is completed, safety and security issues would be the place to spend that money.

“We put out a scope and that scope hasn’t changed,” he said, noting that part of that scope does include security and safety issues such as fire alarm system and public address system upgrades.

“If we have additional money left over after our bids come in, our first priority will be safety and security.”

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