The last time the advisory committee tasked with identifying facility safety and security issues for Missoula County Public Schools got together it was for a bus tour in March.
In order to better understand safety challenges and help make recommendations for improvements to the Board of Trustees, the committee comprised of a diverse cross-section of community members walked the halls at a handful of schools.
The notion was that by doing so problems would be easier to define and solutions could be found.
On Wednesday, when the committee reconvened to discuss its findings, members found they were no closer to answers and the wide-ranging building safety problems were as vexing as ever.
How to identify and regulate who is coming and going at schools took up much of the discussion.
Some of the ideas talked about were controlling access with intercom systems, access badges, door cameras and guards; teaching students to not open doors to the public; isolating night groups that use facilities; and training schools with a “see something, say something” message.
Frustrations were aired late in the two-hour meeting, with several members disagreeing about the effectiveness of security cameras.
As in past meetings, conversations wandered into matters regarding public safety, which is a topic assigned to a different committee.
“We always seem to drift into teacher empowerment and resistance,” said Ginny Tribe, meeting moderator.
When Tribe asked to refocus the conversation on facility challenges, Zack Allen, a former soldier and Missoula parent retorted: “We can’t make facility challenges in a vacuum. There is a bleed-over and we have to be sensitive to that.”
After hearing the flood of ideas and discussion, veteran security expert Tom Schussler said he didn’t think the committee had the technical expertise to recommend safety measures.
Schussler also wondered where money will come from to pay for all the suggested improvements.
Mark Thane, MCPS regional director, explained that the district is launching a study of its facilities with an architect and will engage in a yearlong process to determine building needs and improvements.
Recommendations that come from the facility safety committee, he said, will be of great help in that process, and funding for the improvements hopefully will come from a taxpayer supported bond.
“This group will have the credibility to justify to the public the need for the bond,” said Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir.
To get the committee back on track with its original job to make schools safer, Tribe handed out homework to be done for the May meeting.
“Come back with three priority actions that need to be done in the short term,” Tribe said. “And identify issues that need to be resolved in the longer term.”
Money, she said, and how to fund these things, will be discussed later.
Just as the meeting came to a close, the most supported idea of the evening came forward.
Kurt Carlson, an airport safety expert who had remained quiet throughout the evening’s discussions made an observation about his own line of work that could be helpful to the committee moving forward.
“In my line of work, if you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport,” Carlson said. “Ask the teachers specifically what is important to them when it comes to safety. They are the person standing in the front of the classroom and they have a lot of good ideas.
“Let’s survey the teachers before school is out.”
Every member agreed, and Cold Springs Principal Webb Harrington reminded the group to not get discouraged.
“We got adrift, but we aren’t making decisions here,” she said. “We are only making recommendations to the school board.”