Per Mar Security Services employees man the hallways and grounds and check in visitors.
The Ankeny school district's switch to private security at the high school and Northview Middle School has been smooth so far, officials said last week.Randy Evans, business development manager for the Des Moines Per Mar office, praised his company's partnership with the district and the police department as a major factor in the initial success of the new program."Our role, in the presence that we've been able to establish, far exceeds what was expected," Evans said. "We're off to a wonderful start."
Per Mar security employees began their work at the schools in late March, following spring break. The two Ankeny police officers who had been assigned to the schools are transitioning into full-time detective positions with the department.
Ankeny Superintendent Matthew Wendt said the new program provides more coverage. With five of the six security guards stationed at the high school, there are enough people to patrol the grounds and check visitors entering the building, as well as walk the hallways with students.
"I'm very confident in the services that are being provided," Wendt said. "I feel that way not only as a school superintendent, but as a parent."
Chad Bentzinger, on-site program manager for the Ankeny security team, said Per Mar staff members meet weekly with school leaders.
The new security squad checks exterior doors to make certain they are secure and patrols the parking lots, in addition to watching over students in the halls. One member is stationed at the public entrance to the high school during the school day to check in visitors.
"It's a continuous operation at all times," Bentzinger said.
Evans said the security officers were selected by both Per Mar and Ankeny district leaders.
Three of the six security officers are armed; all have gone through a statewide program for school employees, along with security training. Evans added that many have a military background, one is a sworn law enforcement officer and another has a teaching degree.
School leaders said they began discussions about a year ago about how to provide additional oversight as the district opens new buildings. The new high school and middle school campus opens in August; Ankeny Centennial High School opens in August 2013.
Wendt said officials knew the local police department was short-staffed, and there would be significant costs to add more school resource officers.
Another factor was that most of the issues in the secondary schools don't require the presence of law enforcement to be resolved, he said.
"We quickly realized there was a significant difference in the services being provided and the services we actually needed," Wendt said.
Ankeny district officials said during the 2009-10 school year, there were 24 incidents of misconduct at the high school - ranging from simple pushing or shoving to what could be considered a fight or violent behavior. There were 19 such incidents at Northview. Of all these incidents, only eight involved any form of injury to a student, officials said.
Ankeny Police Chief Gary Mikulec said he supports the move, noting his department is short-staffed and the majority of problems at the schools don't require police intervention.
Mikulec said there are perhaps just four to six fights a year that result in assault arrests. Police handle a total of 50 to 60 cases a year stemming from other situations, including drug and alcohol offenses and thefts.
District officials said any searches of students and their lockers will continue to be handled by school personnel, with the assistance of police if needed.
Officials have said the security-program change is being made for roughly the same cost as the current year's security budget.
The contract with Per Mar for the 2011-2012 school year will be $139,700 to provide 24-hour security, including staff in the schools, campus monitors, and coverage for athletics and activities.
The district's security personnel budget, estimated at $136,000 for this school year, included $64,000 for half of the Ankeny Police Department's two school resource officers' salaries, $57,000 for part-time campus monitors at the high school, and $15,000 to pay police officers to handle event security as needed. There is money left in the 2010-11 security budget to cover the cost of the integration period for Per Mar through the end of this school year.