ELLIJAY, Ga. – Citizens are questioning the Gilmer County Board of Education this week after reports have surfaced of the involvement of and connections between the school systems Superintendent, Dr. Shanna Downs, and her husband’s, Jeff Downs, career in a company that the school is now engaging to install a security system in the schools.
While allegations pointed that Shanna Downs financially benefited from this contract between the school and the company known as Centegix, where sources say Jeff Downs serves and Senior Vice President of Sales.
FYN looked deeper into the contract and Request for Proposals (RFP) process that was headed up by Gilmer Schools Director of Technology John Call. According to hid RFP listed, the criteria of the RFP included:
1. Bidder’s total proposed price
2. Product quality/appropriateness/compatibility/performance
3. Bidder’s qualifications/experience
4. Bidder’s ability to provide support/service
5. Bidder’s warranty/maintenance
6. Proposed product meeting the district’s present needs as well as future needs through
enhancements and upgrades.
Call headed the reviews and RFP process, according to Downs, who said, “When I realized that my husband would likely accept a position with Centegix in November, I notified the board and I placed our technology director, John Call, in charge of the competitive bidding process for the security system. I asked that I be left completely out of the process.”
Downs further stated that Call and Stuart Sheriff, Assistant Superintendent, contacted Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins Attorneys at Law on November 12 for legal advice. As they saw no problem after Downs recusal, Downs says she informed the Board of her husband’s potential future employment with Centegix. She says, “Mr. Call assembled a committee of building level administrators to review and score the responses to the Request for Proposals (RFPs). Details of that process can be found in our board minutes from December 13, 2018. Until that process was complete, I stayed unaware of the selection of the product.”
Downs made one further note on her husband’s involvement saying, “My husband began work with Centegix on December 3rd and will not make any commission off of the purchase.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Over the past two months, the Gilmer County Board of Education has listened to proposals from Kloud-12 on possible changes to their school system’s security.
Stretching back further than that, even when planning the renovations of Gilmer High School, security increases have grown more accustomed to their spot in the forefront of discussion. The renovations saw the High School go from an open glass lobby with multiple ways into the school, to a single point, secured entrance.
Not uncommon in today’s world where school shootings and threats are on the rise, this style of an entrance is already in Gilmer County at Clear Creek Middle School where visitors and parents are guided into the front office before gaining entrance to the school as a whole.
Now, the Board of Education is moving again on the security front. A tentative approval came this week for the board to move forward with proposals from Kloud-12 to implement two new features into the school system. In her phrasing of recommending the motion, Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and the board indicated a 2-phase implementation.
The first phase garnered the most support with changing the id badges of employees in the schools to incorporate an electronic button that they can use for instant communication. The button is flexibly programmed to the board’s desires for levels of alert and levels of notifications. For example a single press could immediately notify the school’s principal and key staff in case of a medical issue, fight, or some simple call for help, holding the button could signal could signal a real medical emergency notifying 911, and rapidly and repeatedly pressing the button would notify police and authorities for an active threat such as a shooter. This is just an example as Brent Coleman with Dooley Education Solutions representing the Kloud-12 service said the Board could set up the program however they wanted.
The badges are not coded or restricted in any way, meaning that there is a possibility of accidental presses or “false alarms,” but Coleman said continuing changes to the system are combating that likelihood with the button recessed and set on an id badge instead of somewhere open. I was later noted that this could help if a teacher had a medical emergency and a student needed to push the button to call for help.
Coleman has shared with the board over these two months his pitch for the service noting that in several of the recent shootings across America, an expedited response would have helped with response time and saved lives. The badge button not only notifies administration, but a proper input would immediately set alarms off across the school initiating an instant lockdown. The process takes seconds instead of the common way of finding a way to notify the office and then spreading the message to initiate the lockdown.
The system also operates on a “mesh network” allowing the system to operate on its own network outside of the wi-fi system and also to allow the system to work around outages. This means if one receiver should fail, others would be ready and able to pick up the signal and operate normally without interruption.
This system for crisis management is designed to work alongside another system that the board saw hesitation on from staff members. Video integration is the Phase 2 of the motion. Separating the item, Downs said they were awaiting clarification for the board’s Tech Department on technical specifications, data storage, recurring licensing, support fees, and other areas.
If clarification indicates what the board wants out of the project, it could increase video footage of the schools. Each school already has cameras watching the hallways and common areas, but this change would see cameras moving into the classrooms as well. With pushback from teachers over being “watched” during the day, Coleman indicated that they could set the cameras to where only administration and select staff could access the feeds and could even give the teachers control over whether the cameras are recording or not.
Meant to work on three levels, the cameras were presented to be used for instruction, safety, and protection. Over the discussions, it was presented that these cameras can be set to record only certain “quadrants of the feed to leave students out if a teacher wanted to make his or her lessons available for replay. This could also be used for snow days or other situations to make the feeds available to students at home. This instructional use could be set for availability by administration or by the teachers.
On the safety and security aspect, the live feeds of the cameras are instantly turned on and set to record if the id badge button is pushed. Coleman noted this feed could be sent live to authorities in threat situations to give a look inside of the school and to aid in locating threats as the id badge system has a built-in location system. In other situations, the button press for a fight could instantly set the live feed to the School Resource Officer and principle for an immediate response without involving police or emergency responders. Aiding in discipline and averting disciplinary situations was a major point of the cameras safety aspect.
Finally, the protection of teachers was presented by Coleman as a tool to aid in allegations against teachers as they could set their cameras to record their class time and student interactions. Providing video documentation to combat false allegations would allow many situations, according to Coleman to be prevented before they escalate.
Throughout discussions, Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley noted she had several teachers questioning why the need for additional cameras as they haven’t had a high amount of discipline issues.
With the board moving forward on these proposals, they are looking at $132,347 for Phase 1 to begin as soon as the board receives its bidding or sole source documentation implementing the id badge system, and $451,224 for the camera system contingent upon satisfactory answers to the outstanding technical questions as well as the bidding or sole source documentation.
With teachers potentially seeing these upgrades as early as Jan 2, they will only see them in Ellijay Elementary School, Mountain View Elementary, Clear Creek Middle School, and Gilmer High School. Downs stated the would not be putting the systems into Ellijay Primary School as they are planning to replace it in the near future, nor in Gilmer Middle School until they are certain of which classrooms will be utilized by the High School in the coming years.