Board questions proposed new visitor system for schools

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Vote on Raptor system delayed until July; budget, CBA get final OK

RaptorGraphic

A new proposed visitor check-in system for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District would require visitors to show their state-issued ID on their first visit, and would create photo sticker badges for the visitors.

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Adoption of a new visitor check-in system for the schools of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District is on hold after Board of Education members, Monday, questioned details about the system and how it might be used.

The Raptor vSoft system allows schools to generate visitor badges and run checks against databases of known child predators. Visitors to schools would, on their first visit, provide a drivers license or other state-issued ID, which is then scanned into the system, checked against public databases for registered sex offenders, and then outputs a custom visitor badge sticker with a photo and destination. On subsequent visits, the check-in person only needs the name of the visitor, checks that the picture matches the visitor and prints out a new badge.

Currently, at each school, visitors sign in and are issued “visitor” stickers.

“This adds a layer of safety for our students without changing the student experience,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Sanville said.

School district officials observed the system in action in the Great Valley School District — which has been using Raptor for about three years. One drawback to the system, which is expected to cost about $11,000 to implement, it’s not practical for use when large numbers of visitors are at a school, such as during concerts and other events.

Board members questioned the value of the system — wondering whether it would be used to screen criminal backgrounds and whether it would be effective. Administrators said they did not anticipate using the system to check criminal backgrounds for both logistical and practical reasons: such checks would slow down the check-in process and the potential for blocking school access to a district parent who had been charged with immaterial to school safety offenses, say such as tax fraud.

Board members also questioned how visitors lacking state-issued IDs would be handled.

Board member Holly Manzone, who initially offered a motion to postpone the vote prior to discussion, said there were too many unanswered questions about the system for the board to make an informed vote.

“I have been very impressed with the administration’s concern for student safety,” she said. “And I believe the administration is doing everything possible. But this system wouldn’t have stopped a ‘Jerry Sandusky‘ — he’s still not on Megan’s List. I would like to know more about it.”

She said she also thought it was important to get input from parents on the system.

But not all of her colleagues agreed — mostly focusing on the benefits of using the system for visitor check-in.

“This is not just a security issue,” Victor Dupuis said, “but also an efficiency issue. This is a much, much better system than what we currently use.”

Timing, though, is an issue.

According to Rick Hostetler, the district’s Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds, to have the system up and running for the 2013-14 school year, the board would need to approve the system at its July 15 meeting.

In other district news, the board gave final approval to the 2013-14 budget, although without the support of Finance Committee Chair Keith Knauss who argued that the district’s accounting is too conservative — he cited that in each of the last four budget years the district has had an unplanned surplus, totaling, he said, $4.5 million. The current budget does spend $115,000 of current reserve, previously set aside to cover increased pension costs.

“The odds are, we’ll be increasing our bank balance by $1 million,” Knauss said of the 2013-14 budget.

He argued that in the near term, the district needs to “deficit spend and judiciously return the money to the taxpayers.”

His colleagues, though, disagreed.

Dupuis noted that with coming pension cost increases, it is likely that the surpluses will be needed in the comings years to prevent large tax increases for taxpayers and he noted some of the dangers of less conservative budgeting, noting the issues that neighboring Kennett Area School District is facing, including the need to outsource staff and increase taxes.

While the budget passed by a 6-1 margin, Knauss — running unopposed in Region A in November — pledged to make the same argument next year.

The board also gave final approval to the collective bargaining agreement with the district’s teachers. While the tentative agreement was reached early last month and ratified shortly thereafter by the Unionville-Chads Ford Education Association, some minor issues over language delayed formal approval by the board until this week.

Members Jeff Hellrung and Knauss voted no.

“It’s not terrible, but it’s not good enough,” Knauss said.

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