HOUSTON — As students return to class this fall, school safety is top of mind.
Houston Independent School District's Police Chief Pedro Lopez Jr. sat down to talk to KHOU 11 News about the security upgrades the district has made and he shared the question he gets the most from parents.
"What can we do to make sure our students are safe?" Lopez said.
The answer is weighing more heavily on his mind after Uvalde. He showed us one of HISD's biggest investments: An upgrade to security systems and the servers that store all the videos.
"That's very important because that helps us secure the campuses, and if a crime occurs, it helps us identify persons who are committing crimes on our campuses," Lopez said.
However, the money that paid for that upgrade is nothing new. In fact, it was passed by state lawmakers in 2019 in response to the Santa Fe school shooting. The 2019-2021 School Safety and Security Grant provided $100 million dollars to harden schools, but it could only be spent on specific categories such as bulletproof glass, fencing and two-way radios among other things.
According to data from TEA, these are the top three Houston area school districts to receive those funds:
- Houston ISD: $3.3 million
- Cy-Fair ISD: $1.8 million
- Katy ISD: $1.3 million
"For a school district this size, even though it's $3.3 million – it's good, but it only provided fencing for four schools. A lot of the money that was spent was on upgrading our server systems," Lopez said.
HISD spent all its money, but three years later, not every district has. KHOU 11 Investigates found the top three with money left to spend:
- Spring Branch ISD: $126,504, which is 22.5% of its total grant
- Aldine ISD: $75,012, that is 7% of its total grant
- Katy ISD: $83,817, that is 6% of its total grant
State Rep. Dan Huberty served on the education committee. He said some districts slated the funds for new or remodeled schools -- projects that still aren't finished.
"One of the other big obstacles happened because of COVID -- everything just got slowed down," Huberty said.
The TEA recently announced it's extending the grant. It said schools will now have until next summer to spend any remaining funds.
"The legislature's perspective is 'we want you to spend that money and we want you to get out and do what you need to do,'" Huberty said. "And, 'come back and tell us what you need.'"
Spring Branch ISD sent this statement to KHOU 11:
"To date, Spring Branch ISD has spent $434,669.00 of the funds received from the School Safety and Security Grant. These funds were used for several projects including electronic door closers, firearm detection software, installation of impact-resistant film, and a portable security camera system.
"The unused portion of the funds were originally allocated for an integrated security system to improve access controls. Due to issues arising from the pandemic, the contractor chosen for this project was not able to complete the work.
"With the Texas Education Agency extending the deadline for the use of the grant funds, Spring Branch ISD will now use the remaining portion of the funds to update and improve the two-way radio communications system used by the SBISD Police Department and our schools."
Aldine ISD also told KHOU 11 that it plans to use its unused funds:
"The Texas Education Agency (TEA) informed us today (July 28) that they are extending the School Safety and Security grant. We are thrilled by this news and will use the remaining $75,095 of the grant to purchase additional equipment that will enhance the district's safety and security measures. The TEA announced the new grant deadline is now Jun 15th, 2023. As always, the safety and security of Aldine ISD's students and staff will always remain our top priority."
Katy ISD told KHOU 11 in a statement:
"With the 2019-2021 School Safety and Security Grant, Katy ISD was able to complete several safety projects by the grant's first deadline of May 31, 2022. With the recent deadline extension, the District can now assess other needs in order to use the remaining funds."