School emergency response system to be funded by SPLOST

LAWRENCEVILLE — A direct communication link between Gwinnett County schools and police during an emergency, such as a school shooting, could be funded by an upcoming sales tax, commissioners announced late Tuesday.

Two weeks before voters go to the polls to consider a three-year extension of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Gwinnett commissioners set the allocation Tuesday for up to $70 million in public safety funding, including $5 million for a “public safety notification and response system for emergencies at public schools.”

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said of the county avoiding the tragedies at schools such as last year’s shooting in Newton, Conn., which left 20 students and six teachers and other officials dead. “I think of this as an insurance policy, trying to be prepared in any way that we can.”

While details of the system have not been released, Nash said county police have worked with Gwinnett County Public Schools and Buford City Schools officials on the development of a “panic duress” system, which would create a direct link to the 911 system and trigger cameras to feed to police.

“This is about getting information from schools in the most efficient way,” Nash said. “This is just one more step we can make to make sure it is as easy as possible to respond.”

Gwinnett County School Board Chairwoman Carole Boyce said she believes the community will look favorably on the proposal.

“Obviously children’s safety is extremely important, and it’s on everyone’s minds,” she said. “It’s something we can pool resources on, so our children can be as safe as they possibly can be.”

The system would be placed in all Gwinnett County and Buford City schools, Nash said.

“It is a remote possibility, but my thought process as a parent is, I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to do something,” said Commissioner Tommy Hunter, who has two children in local schools.

While the county has allocated about 70 percent of its proceeds from the proposed one-percent sales tax to transportation, $70.73 million has been set aside for public safety purposes. In addition to the $5 million school response system, commissioners set aside about $59.13 million for equipment and vehicles for fire and emergency management, police and sheriff uses and $6.6 million for the replacement of the county’s medical examiner’s facility.

Other proposed uses for the tax include parks and recreation, library and senior facilities, as well as projects earmarked by Gwinnett’s 16 cities.