The Bulloch County Board of Education on Thursday night approved spending more than $2.8 million with two technology firms to add safety and security features at all 15 schools and the central office and alternative program complex.
These features will range from closed-circuit TV cameras, alarm systems and door-access controls to wearable alert devices that teachers and other employees can use to call for help or even to trigger a lockdown. The primary funding source, providing more than $2.35 million, is the current Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, but the Bulloch school system is also using the $450,000 it received from the state school safety grants of $30,000 per school initiated by Gov. Brian Kemp.
“This is overall building perimeter security, access controls,” Superintendent of Charles Wilson said after the meeting, summarizing “big components” of the larger of the two contracts.
It was awarded to Southeastern System Technologies, or SST, for its proposal costing $2,339,130. The alarm and TV camera systems, door controls and employee badges are all in that, he said.
Meanwhile, another company, Centegix, will provide the school system a “crisis alert system” for $472,500. This will involve small electronic devices that can be attached to a badge or lanyard to provide a range of alert levels for all school employees.
“It empowers every employee to be able to take different steps, at different levels, ultimately, if they need to, to lock down the building and alert 911. That’s the highest (level),” Wilson said. “You’ve got this contained environment, we provide the training, and it empowers people.”
Triggering the devices to that highest level will require an intentional action, to prevent false alarms, he said.
As allowed under state law, officials are not disclosing details of school safety plans that will use this equipment.
As part of its previous meeting, Aug. 22, the board held a lengthy closed-door session, with a review of school safety plans as one stated reason and with key staff members remaining in the room.
Thursday, “safety and security improvements” and “crisis alert system” appeared on the open-meeting agenda as “old business for approval.”
However, Wilson at first stated only the chosen vendor, SST, and its bid amount for the safety and security improvements portion. No bid sheet showing other vendors was included in meeting packets, even for board members.
District 3 member Stuart Tedders offered a motion, seconded by District 1 member Cheri Wagner, to accept the SST bid. Chairman Mike Sparks asked if board members had any questions.
“I know that historically when there’s a bid process completed we normally get a copy of what that looks like in looking at the different bids,” said District 4 member April Newkirk. “That wasn’t included as part of this. Is there a reason for that?”
“Yes, ma’am, actually because we were trying to maintain the integrity of the information,” Wilson told Newkirk. “If it was in the board packet it would be public record, which is why we asked if you wanted to have executive session prior to this discussion.”
“Then we can’t know what the other bids were?” Newkirk asked.
“Oh, absolutely, you can,” Wilson said, but he added that he had asked board members in an email to let the chairman know if the board would need to go into executive session.
“Based on the discussions we have had, the intent was to protect as much of the details as possible,” Wilson said.
Besides just dollar amounts, the bidder selection process had involved a scoring system that might be “hard to decouple” from some of the details, he said.
“We did talk about that and we talked about how we did not want everybody to know what we were doing, and I understand that and I support that,” Newkirk said. “However, when it comes to the financial components that are coming from taxpayers, my thought was we would at least before voting on it we would know how that process rolled out.”
“I respect that. … Wilson said. “Remember, this is new to all of us. We’re all trying to work through this.”
He suggested the total scores might be revealed, and they were later.
Tabled 1 hour
Wilson also suggested the board table the decision on the safety and security bid until later. District 8 member Maurice Hill made the motion to table, seconded by Newkirk, and Tedders suggested that the action might be picked up again after the scheduled closed session later in the meeting. Newkirk agreed, and the action was temporarily tabled by a unanimous vote.
So was the separate bid on the crisis alert system.
The “executive” or closed-door, session lasted nearly an hour. Besides the security bids, the board also discussed hiring and employee departures on a routine list before unanimously accepting Wilson’s recommendations on those.
After returning to open session, the board awarded the two school safety-related technology orders to SST and Centegix.
Southeastern System Technologies operates from locations in Baxley, Macon, Augusta and Savannah, as well as one in South Carolina. Of three firms bidding, SST not only had the lowest price, but the highest score in the matrix used to rate the offers, in which price counted 30 percent but features and specifications 20 percent, design 20 percent and other factors such as vendor qualifications, experience and references for smaller portions of the total score.
Netplanner offered a $3.15 million package, while Micro Technology Consultant’s price was $2.77 million. Another company was listed as having an incomplete bid.
On the emergency alert system, Centegix’s one competitor, Summit Solutions, offered a product call AlertPoint for $491,315.
School system Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown emailed the prices and score summaries after the Statesboro Herald requested them through Wilson.
“Initial phases will begin soon,” Brown said when asked when the equipment will be installed.
A provision of the Georgia Open Records Act exempts school safety plans – which are mandated by another state law – from required disclosure. In turn, a subsection of the Georgia Open Meetings Act allows for closed meetings when exempt documents would be revealed if the discussion were open.
However, bid sheets after a bid is awarded and records of school system expenditures are open records.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.