Contract awarded for ballistic film on city school windows

Published 1:55 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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By Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent
Protecting schools, students, and school funding were topics of discussion during Thursday night’s Elizabethton Board of Education regular meeting, which included the awarding of a contract to install ballistic film on glass windows at schools.

Solar Response LLC of Bristol was awarded the contract as the low bidder based on the materials and installation costs. Director of Schools Richard VanHuss said the company had completed similar projects all over the state, including Bristol and Washington County schools who “were very pleased with the work they did there.”

“The law states ‘ground level,’ but we’re going a little beyond that,” said VanHuss, who reiterated that the film “won’t stop a bullet, but what it will do is it will keep the glass from shattering if someone shoots.

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“You know, God forbid that ever happen,” VanHuss said. “That gives us precious seconds and up to minutes for us to be able to respond in that type of situation.” The director said the system’s buildings were not built with the idea of school shootings in mind, but said the ballistic film will “go a long way” toward protecting students and assuring parents.

An exact estimate of the cost will be determined once a review of the project is completed and the exact square footage is known. VanHuss said the system would then compare that to the amount of funding available through the grants in hand.

No Operating Budget Increase

Also at the meeting, the board approved notifying Elizabethton City Council the system would not be requesting an increase in its operating budget for 2024-2025, while also thanking the council for its “commitment of $500,000 towards capital projects for 2023-2024 and an additional $500,000 for the 2024-2025 school year.” In the letter of notification from the director to the council, VanHuss states, “we anticipate the need for approximately $1,500,000 to be budgeted from the excess 1/2 cent sales tax to complete projects in 2024-2025.”

“As you know, last year we approached the city about a $1,000,000 investment to help us complete some capital projects across the district,” VanHuss said, expressing gratitude that the city approved $500,000 for 2023-2024, an additional $500,000 for 2024-2025, and how City Council is “behind us every step of the way.”

Board Chairman Eddie Pless recalled that Board Member Phil Isaacs brought up the City Council’s support for schools during the recent Tennessee School Boards Association Legislative and Legal Institute held in Franklin as they heard other systems talking about their needs, such as facility maintenance, and the trouble they were facing.

“We’re not dealing with some of the things that a lot of systems are,” Pless said.

Concern About Vouchers

Still, one common concern they heard during the TSBA conference was about school vouchers.

“It was reassuring to sit with other school boards and see that we’re not a minority about the voucher situation,” Board Member Jamie Schaff said. “The opposition is a majority.” Schaff characterized her discussions with lawmakers as “quite enlightening, to say the least,” and reiterated her belief that “vouchers will take away from the public school system.”

Pless also stressed the importance of the information board members received during the TSBA conference regarding artificial intelligence. “If you’re not using it and you’re not in a classroom having to deal with it, you may not realize the impact,” Pless said. “I learned in about 10 minutes how to use it not for good,” he said, adding that such knowledge is valuable to protect the classroom and maintain integrity. “Bottom line is students need to be taught how to use it properly.”

Another topic Pless said was addressed at TSBA was NIL – the acronym given to the financial leveraging of a college athlete’s “name, image, and likeness” – and how it’s reached the high school level, “whether we’re aware of it or not,” and the need for the system to protect its athletes. “I hope that it’s something that never enters our area,” Pless said.

Elizabethton City Council Member Michael Simerly told the board Thursday night that city officials would be attending the upcoming Tennessee Municipal League Legislative Conference (March 4-5 in Nashville) and will be meeting with lawmakers, including state Rep. John Holsclaw (R-Elizabethton) and state Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City). Simerly strongly encouraged the board to provide him or City Manager Daniel Estes with a copy of its recent resolution opposing school vouchers.

“We’ll be leaving the first week in March and we’ll be happy to take that down there and personally hand that to our Senate, as well as our legislative staff, because it looks like the governor is just wide open – as far as what I read in the paper – he’s wide open about this voucher program and he needs to listen to the people that vote for him, and that’s us.”

The city school board in January passed a resolution opposing Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal, known as the Education Freedom Scholarship Act. The board called Lee’s proposal another instance where public education is in “a fight for its life.”

Simerly also reported to the board that with the purchase of the Franklin Fitness Center, the city came into possession of exercise equipment that is available for school use. “Please get with our city manager if you think that the school system could use any of that exercise equipment,” he said.

In Other Action

In other action, the board:

— announced Elizabethton High School students elected Hudson Smith as the new school board liaison for the 2024-2025 academic year. Hannah McCoy is the current student liaison.

— approved as new hires Keirstyn Brooks, ESP leader, effective Jan. 30; Amy Emmert, interim educational assistant at Elizabethton High School (EHS), effective Jan. 23; Austene Smith, interim social studies teacher at T.A. Dugger (TAD), effective Jan. 23; Cassie Minton, assistant softball coach at TAD, effective Jan. 31; Stan Ogg, interim teacher at EHS, Feb. 1; Arista Bremer, ESP student leader, effective Feb. 5; and Annie Willis, assistant softball coach at EHS, effective Feb. 6.

— approved for rehire Zach Bickford, interim SPED teacher at Harold McCormick Elementary, effective Jan. 22; and Elly Cash, educational assistant at TAD, effective Feb. 7.

— approved the hiring of Margie Lopez, an additional ESP student leader position, effective Jan. 23.

— approved the transfer of Alexis Bier, interim TNAC teacher, effective Jan. 26; Olivia Roe, interim teacher, effective March; Amanda Woodby, from part-time SPED assistant to full-time educational assistant, effective Feb. 5; and Carolyn Ayers, from SPED assistant to regular education assistant, effective Feb. 5.

— approved the resignations of Angela Taylor, effective Jan. 19, and Bo Toft, effective Feb. 5.

The next regularly scheduled school board meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. March 21.