More than 120 schools across Minnesota will receive part of the $25 million in school safety funding approved by state lawmakers earlier this year.
The Minnesota Department of Education on Monday said it had selected projects in 90 school districts or charter schools, spread out across a total of 123 school buildings, for help with projects ranging from secured building entrances to two-way radio systems. With safety concerns top of mind for school leaders, the competitive grants drew applications for projects totaling $255.5 million — more than 10 times the available funding.
The winning schools will receive funding of between $2,300 and $500,000 — the highest amount allowed for any school building — and can use the money over the next two years. Officials in some of the districts selected said the state funding will allow them to move forward with projects that they'd otherwise have no way to fund.
Brian Clarke, superintendent of Fertile-Beltrami Schools in northwest Minnesota, was surprised to learn his district had secured just over $439,000 to build a new, more secure entrance on its lone school building. He'd filled out the application knowing the odds of success were low, but hopeful he could get some help to update a 1930s building last remodeled three decades ago.
Now, he said, the district will be able to move ahead with building an entrance that gives staff more control over who comes and goes from the school and a clear view of what's happening on the playground and in the area where parents and bus drivers drop students off. For a district with an annual budget of about $6 million, he said such a project would be a stretch without the grant.
"To be honest, I don't know that's something we would be able to accomplish," he said.
Schools that applied for the grants on the first day the state began accepting them were assigned a random number. Then, officials made their way down the list, awarding projects until the $25 million ran out. In addition, half the money had to go to districts and schools outside of the 11-county metro area.
Minneapolis Public Schools, the state's third-largest district, will see the most money. The district is set to receive $2.5 million, divided among six schools: the FAIR School, Field Elementary, Folwell School, Justice Page Middle School, Lucy Laney Community School and Lyndale Community School.
St. Paul Public Schools will receive $549,000 for work at four schools: Frost Lake Elementary, Journeys Secondary, Parkway Montessori and Community Middle, and Randolph Heights Elementary. Most of that money will go toward the installation of keyless entry systems and purchase of two-way radios, though the district plans a major construction project at Frost Lake Elementary, which will get $500,000.
District spokesman Jerry Skelly said the grant money will help the district stretch its dollars for other projects included in its facilities master plan.
"The new funds will be used to offset costs associated with the [master plan] and allow for even more work to be done," he said.
Many districts applied for significantly more money than they received — or received no money at all.
Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest district, will receive $490,000 for projects at eight schools: Adams, Dayton, Hoover, Jefferson and Ramsey elementary schools, Coon Rapids High School, Oak View Middle School and the Secondary Technical Education Program. But it applied for another $6.9 million in projects that were not selected.
In southeast Minnesota, Goodhue Public Schools won just over $472,000 to remodel the entrance to the building that serves all of the district's 680 students. Superintendent Mike Redmond said updates to the school, built in 1935 and last updated in the 1960s, are long overdue. The new entrance will not only help keep the building more secure, but also help control its temperature and humidity.
To make those fixes, Redmond said the district would have otherwise had to ask voters for more help, or spend years saving up the approximately $26,000 earmarked for school safety upgrades that it receives annually.
"The options were challenging in either direction, so this is a huge benefit," he said.