The Little Rock School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to place mobile weapons-detection devices in the entryways of the district's middle and high schools and at a handful of other sites.
The board approved the plan for the metal detectors at a special meeting and work session in which it also approved raising starting salaries to more than $15 an hour for many of its support staff jobs.
Later Thursday night, Superintendent Jermall Wright and School Board members explored the issue of work hours required of teachers, and whether the district remains committed to establishing career academies in all of its high schools.
Wright and his staff recommended that the district acquire and install 35 walk-through metal detectors -- at a cost of $678,864 -- in light of what he has said is an increase in the number of weapons discovered on campuses this school year.
Wright made the recommendation after two loaded 9mm handguns were found at Central High and 14 "facsimile" guns at various campuses, including elementary schools this school year. One facsimile gun with real bullets was found at Hall High.
A facsimile gun can be a toy gun, a BB gun or air-soft guns that shoot plastic pellets.
Specifically, the board approved the use of the Opengate Weapons Detection System as provided by Convergint Technologies, a systems integrator company that would do the installation, training, ongoing service to the system and reporting.
Ron Self, the district's director of safety and security, told the board that the Opengate system differs from older styles of metal detectors.
"It's a much quicker way to get students through," Self said.
The proposed model doesn't pick up on "minor metal," such as keys, cellphones or belts, Self said. Instead, the system -- with some exceptions -- signals on objects that have the heavier density that could be a gun or a bomb, he said.
The system does, however, pick up Chromebook computer devices and three-ring binders that students routinely carry. Those items have metal strips that are detected, but those items can be passed around the detection systems, he said.
In response to board member questions, Self said the system will not require the hiring of additional security staff but will rely in part on current school personnel to help at the beginning of the school day.
Self said similar systems are used at the Arkansas State Fair, University of Arkansas football games and Silver Dollar City amusement park in Missouri.
Board member Ali Noland said she and others don't like the idea of having to use metal detectors because they want schools to be welcoming and warm. But Noland said that parents and students have consistently asked in the past several months how schools can be made safer.
Three of the detection units are planned for Parkview Magnet, and two each at Hall High and Cloverdale, Dunbar, Forest Heights, Horace Mann, Mabelvale and Pulaski Heights middle schools. West School of Innovation would have one unit.
Other units are designated for the Metropolitan Technical Skills Center, the district's central administration office, and adult and alternative learning centers.
The district will pay for the system with federal covid-19 relief funds.
The Little Rock district has taken other steps recently to increase the safety and security of the campuses, and more steps are being explored -- such as requiring students to use clear backpacks.
Earlier this year, the School Board approved the purchase of crisis-alert badges and the enforcement of the district's new policy and longtime practice of requiring classroom and exterior school doors to be locked at all times except when students are in transition.
All school security personnel have been required to add additional random scans to their daily activities, according to materials presented to the School Board. And, the district has asked for additional assistance from the Little Rock Police Department in areas near schools where gun activity has been prevalent.
SUPPORT STAFF SALARIES
The board vote on starting pay for support staff jobs will put the beginning hourly pay rates above $15 an hour.
The new starting rates will affect support service jobs such as custodians, food service employees, instructional aides and security officers.
The starting salary for security officers would go from $12.71 an hour to $16.04, Robert Robinson, the district's executive director of human resources, has said.
The starting salary for custodians would go from $11.53 an hour to $15.42. The salaries for instructional aides would range from $15.73 to $17.58, depending on their particular job assignments and educational qualifications.
The starting salary for child nutrition workers would go from $12.71 an hour to $16.04 an hour.
No current employee would earn less than a new employee who has the same level of experience, Robinson said of the pay plan.