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NPS leaders recommend metal detectors for all schools

The budget proposal also includes adding more security officers and cameras to school buildings.

NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk Public Schools leaders released their latest budget recommendations this week. It recommends funding for weapons detection systems in every school in the division. 

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Byrdsong presented the plan Wednesday during a school board work session.  

The proposal also includes upgrades to security cameras and adding cameras to most high schools, among other enhancements.  According to the division, the weapons detection system would cost roughly $1 million for fiscal year 2024. 

"This system, which is comprised of two, free-standing pillars, will support efforts to provide fast, automatic, and unprecedented screenings," said Byrdsong.  

She said the technology can screen multiple people at a fast pace and pick up on multi-caliber weapons and explosives. 

The proposal comes as schools in Hampton Roads and across the country deal with growing concerns about safety threats, including school shootings, bomb threats, and cyber attacks.

“Recent incidents of violence, both locally and nationally, underscore the need to approach this priority area holistically,” the school division said in a press release this week.

The superintendent said school division leaders want to enhance safety and security efforts and deter "individuals from bringing weapons into school facilities."

According to the plan, the school division seeks to hire 18 additional school security officers, increase their pay, and extend their contracts from 10 months to 12 months. 

Prior to the pandemic, Norfolk Police staffed all secondary schools with school resource officers. However, Byrdsong noted that is no longer the case, as the city's police department wrestles with a staffing shortage. 

"We need to feel safe. Our teachers need to feel safe in our buildings. Our students need to feel safe in our building," said Laquetta Mackey, president of the Norfolk Federation of Teachers. 

Mackey, who has more than 25 years of experience, said teachers have called for more security measures. While she said these proposals will help, it does not assuage all of their safety concerns. For instance, Mackey referenced some teachers asking for help to stop fights in schools, and she thinks the division could use even more security officers. 

"It will definitely help, but not enough," she said. 

The budget recommendation would also reclassify five school security officers into supervisor positions to support and coordinate safety efforts across the division. 

It also calls for new and improved security cameras. 

While all schools have cameras, the administration recommends upgrading existing devices. Nine schools will receive new equipment next year, while four high schools received new cameras this year, according to Byrdsong. 

Overall, the $401.9 million budget proposal focuses on five priorities: compensation, employee recruitment and retention, safety and security for students and staff, building maintenance and repairs, and additional resources for schools and students.

Norfolk Public Schools leaders are also trying to combat a teacher shortage. 

The budget also recommends raising teachers’ starting pay from $49,500 to $53,000, among other teacher and employee raises and bonuses. The superintendent wants to put more money on the table to recruit and retain employees, too. 

Newly hired teachers, and former teachers who come back to the division, would get $1,500. 

For current employees, Byrdsong wants a one-time, $250 bonus for referring a teacher candidate who is hired full-time. There's also a $350 bonus for employees who accept a student-teacher placement.

The school division referenced data from the Virginia Department of Education showing NPS with one of the highest teacher vacancy rates in the state at more than 15%, as of October 2022. That number is down year-to-year after teachers raised teacher salaries for this school year.   

However, Mackey said the budget proposal does not properly address pay for longtime teachers and employees. 

"A lot of times our teachers say they will go to other districts because they pay them by their years of experience, and our school district does not do that," said Mackey. 

She also said there are more factors than pay that contribute to teachers leaving the district.  

The school board’s public hearing is on March 1. The school division must provide the budget to the Norfolk City Council for approval. 

For a complete viewing of the NPS 2023-2024 budget proposal, click here

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