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After Sandy Hook, Minnesota school security upgrades take shape

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After the fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012, districts around Minnesota re-examined their own school security. Some began to set aside money – in some cases, significant outlays – for improvements.

One example: In Stillwater, school officials are in the midst of a voter-approved $3.4 million districtwide initiative to make its schools safer, the Pioneer Press reports.

Among the improvements is a reconstructed, more secure main entrance at Oak Park Elementary, the newspaper reports. Entrances at two junior highs and two elementary schools are undergoing minor renovations to better reroute visitors; entrance work at two other elementaries was completed last year.

And at all nine Stillwater-area elementary schools, visitors next fall will have to pass through a video-intercom system to be buzzed into the main office, where they will be required to show photo ID and collect a visitor's badge, the Pioneer Press reports.

Improvements were already in planning stages, but the Sandy Hook shootings prodded district officials to move more aggressively, they say. Stillwater district voters last fall approved the security upgrades.

"Sandy Hook really pushed many schools to get this done and get it done now," Dennis Bloom, the district's director of operations, told the Pioneer Press. "Otherwise, it might have been, 'Let's do this one and then this one.'"

In December, a year after Sandy Hook, MPR News reported that many Minnesota school districts have launched improvements of their own – depending on resources.

New alarms, security cameras and door locks have been added. Some schools have considered hiring new security officers; by one Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimate, there were about 700 to 800 school resource officers at work in the state, MPR noted.

Of course, cash-strapped school officials from district to district have wrestled with how to pay for big security upgrades.

Some districts have turned to voters. The Bloomington school district is spending about $7 million on security improvements as part of a voter-approved 10-year, $60 million levy.

At Providence Academy, a Catholic school in Plymouth, the school has spent more than $40,000 on security upgrades since Sandy Hook – cash mostly raised at a school fundraiser, KARE 11 reported.

Minnesota lawmakers, with an eye on generating more security money for all schools statewide, last year increased a cap on a school safety levy by $6 to $36, which funneled $5 million more last year to schools for building improvements, MPR reported.

Another complicated question for school officials: How much security is too much?

“There’s a fine line between building a fortress and maintaining a safe and caring learning center,” Edina schools spokeswoman Susan Brott last year told the Star Tribune, which examined how school officials have wrestled with the issue.

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