Public schools in Dane County poured nearly $3 million into security upgrades over the summer, continuing a trend that began nearly 15 years ago with a school shooting in Columbine, Colo.

Almost all school buildings in the county will have secure entrances when classes begin this week, even in the small, rural districts of Belleville and Wisconsin Heights. All outside doors in both districts will be locked after the start of the school day, a first for both districts but a standard precaution now across much of the county.

Several districts, including Sun Prairie, added a layer of security beyond an intercom system, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to reconfigure entrances so that visitors walk directly into an office or a locked vestibule before being let into any other part of the school. At two schools in McFarland, that meant swapping a classroom for an office, part of $374,000 in summer security upgrades there.

“I doubt you’ll find too many districts that didn’t do something over the summer,” said Joe Bellomo, facilities director in Waunakee, which also is locking all main doors this fall for the first time and has spent about $40,000 since spring for entrances with intercoms, buzzers and cameras.

Most of the upgrades had been in the works for a year or more, although a mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December gave the measures new urgency, district officials said.

“Every time a tragic incident occurs, we learn something, and we reevaluate,” said Tom Wohlleber, an assistant superintendent in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, which spent about $650,000 on security upgrades this summer.

The Newtown tragedy provided many lessons, although the central one might be the most difficult to hear, said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif.

The Newtown killer shot his way into the school through glass doors, defeating a security system requiring visitors to be buzzed in.

“If you have a determined shooter or killer, they are going to be very difficult to stop,” Stephens said.

He tells districts to “do everything you can, knowing you can’t do everything.”

Paying for it

Most districts said they found the money for the upgrades by prioritizing safety within their maintenance and capital budgets, even if it meant delaying other projects such as roof replacements.

Almost all of the spending occurred outside of Madison, which, as a large urban district, already had instituted most measures. It began moving to locked doors several years ago and completed the final two school buildings last year, said security coordinator Luis Yudice. Its schools use a mix of intercom systems and welcome centers to screen visitors.

Madison also was an early adopter of school surveillance cameras, a move that led to a student walkout over privacy concerns and a split School Board decision in 2001. Now, they are everywhere, and they cause nary a ripple.

“We typically don’t get any pushback,” said Brian Boehm, an associate principal at Verona High School, which is spending $64,278 this month to replace a raft of outdated cameras with 46 new ones that provide greater clarity and more replay and search functions.

The expenditure is part of $283,938 in district security upgrades over the last three months, said Chris Murphy, business manager. Entrances at three Verona schools were remodeled over the summer, and a $111,000 keyless entry system was installed districtwide.

The keyless system brings Verona up to date with most other Dane County districts. Employees, vendors and contractors now will enter by swiping an ID card.

The cards are programmable, so a community group that rents a school gym every Saturday for two hours, for instance, would be issued a card that works only during those hours, said Ken Kietzke, Verona’s building and grounds director.

“There won’t be all these keys floating around the community anymore,” he said.

Secure entrances

The biggest trend in school security is the locking of all outside doors after the school day starts. Out of nearly 150 public school buildings in the county, the State Journal found only seven that will still allow the public to come and go freely this fall. The newspaper is not naming the schools so as not to jeopardize student safety.

The Monona Grove School District spent about $300,000 over the summer on security upgrades, mostly to secure school entrances. It also added an automatic lockdown feature at all six district school buildings.

“By just throwing a switch, every programmable door locks immediately,” said Mark Scullion, building and grounds director and safety coordinator.

The Middleton-Cross Plains District has begun a similar process at its 13 buildings, installing programmable doors and identifying parts of buildings that can be “compartmentalized” and shut off from other areas in an emergency, Wohlleber said.

Also over the summer, the district added locking devices on all classroom doors at elementary schools so that doors can now can be locked from the inside, Wohlleber said. Previously, the only way a teacher could lock a door was to step into the hallway or reach around the door and lock it from the outside with a key. The locking devices were a relatively inexpensive addition but an important one, he said.

Not all of the security upgrades involved hardware. In DeForest, all front office staff took training over the summer in what has become known as “verbal judo,” or using words to prevent or de-escalate potentially explosive situations.

“It’s all those things you can do rather than meet hostility with hostility,” said Superintendent Sue Borden.

School officials stress that physical changes to buildings are just one piece of the security puzzle, and not even the most important one.

For years now, districts have focused on anti-bullying programs, relationship-building initiatives, conflict-resolution strategies and other measures intended to keep students safe from each other.

“The best safety prevention techniques are the ones that catch little problems before they become big issues,” said Oregon Superintendent Brian Busler.

Doug Erickson covers K-12 education and religion for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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(8) comments

Maidservant Huldah

Lets put this into perspective:

You pull up in front of the school and wave at your child as she goes inside.

Next thing you know the doors lock behind her because we can't have gunmen running in, and we can't arm the teachers for protection because, well... that's just silly!

Now you can't get in to your child, and she can't get out to you if she were to need you.

Meanwhile, she goes to Mr. So and So's class and she is being
introduced to masturbation and whatever other things come along with sex ed. because the teacher and the government feels it's the "right thing to do." (All the conservative teachers have fled the building by now because they are being "intolerant" about what is being taught).

Now the innocent girl heads to the bathroom where she is surprised to find her male teacher waiting for her there. After all, they do have an OPEN BATHROOM DOOR POLICY.

Over the course of the next several years, the girl is withdrawn and rarely speaks to her parents. She appears angry and sometimes out of control. Then the good government doctor convinces her parents that she must be medicated. They reluctantly agree, but they they don't feel they have any other solutions.

Finally, some years later the truth comes out. The girl was molested by that teacher and she blames...her PARENTS! Her question is, "where were they when she NEEDED them?"

That my dear friends is reality. The time to fight for them is right NOW!


People say these are empty gestures and I agree, as someone in the article acknowledges, a person hell bent on violence will be successful. But think of the uproar if districts didn't do these things and an incident occurred. "Why didn't they do anything to prevent this? etc." I don't think these measures are worthless as some seem too. Also, many middle and high schools do have cops assigned to them.

Maybe the real question is, why is our society so violent this stuff is needed?


It's not really an "empty gesture", it is an excellent way to put a locked door between parents and children every day, and getting the parents to think it's a "good" thing.

spooky tooth

This bill should be sent to the NRA.


Here's an idea that doesn't cost a dime and might deter would be school shooters: Have police officers do their paperwork - which they have lots to do - while parked in conspicuous view of a school; in the parking lot or right at the front door. They have to stop and do it somewhere, may as well do it where their presence might do some good.


Feel good nonsense. Not one of the systems mentioned in the article will stop someone bent on doing wrong. Like most of these types of measures they only tend to inconvenience the innocent (TSA screening).


Amen, Rabbit.


Security theater, that's all this is. It doesn't make anyone any safer while treating parents like criminals until proven otherwise and students like prisoners.

Go back and read about the security that the Newtown shooter got through. I'd rather have this money spent on education - you know, the reason kids are in school to begin with??

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