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$25 million in safety grants awarded to Minnesota schools

The Minnesota Department of Education announced Monday that 90 Minnesota public school districts or charter schools were awarded school safety grants to be used for security and violence prevention improvements at 123 building sites across the state. The funds may be used to predesign, design, construct, furnish and equip school facilities, including renovating and expanding existing buildings. The Minnesota Department of Education received a total of 1,187 complete applications, requesting $255.5 million—more than 10 times the available amount of funding.

Among the 1,066 schools that did not receive funding were local school Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School ($10,150) and Middle/High School ($26,813), Battle Lake Public School, Parkers Prairie High School, Park Rapids Area Senior High School and Century Elementary/Middle School.

WDC Superintendent Lee Westrum said the roughly $37,000 they asked for would have gone for high quality two-way radios for both schools as well as some visual alarms to be installed in the Middle/High School. These would allow for alarms to be more easily noticed in louder areas of the school, like the band room, cafeteria or gym. Westrum said not getting the funds won't set the school back much. But he indicated that the response from school shows the great need for more safety upgrades in schools and more funds.

"The message to state Legislature should be that $25 million was allocated, but we need more," Westrum said.

Westrum said the school would evaluate whether they should include the safety upgrades on their budget since hearing the state would not fund it.

Area schools that did receive funding include Alexandria's Woodland Elementary ($80,593); Henning Public Schools ($77,388); Perham-Dent High School ($235,000); Perham's Heart of the Lakes Elementary ($180,000), Parkers Prairie Elementary ($414,841.60) and Detroit Lakes' Rossman Elementary ($354,026.)

"Students and teachers clearly need more support to ensure our kids are safe," said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. "When we have more than 1,000 schools asking for over $250 million in funding to secure their buildings, we must respond with urgency. The school safety grants announced today only scratch the surface. A more comprehensive approach, including efforts to improve school climate, expand mental health services, and enact common-sense gun safety measures is needed."

Governor Dayton and the 2018 Legislature passed school safety grants last spring. Governor Dayton proposed a more comprehensive Safe and Secure Schools Act package, including intervention and support for expelled students and improving student access to mental health support. Governor Dayton also supported legislation to reduce gun violence by passing criminal background checks, age restrictions on assault rifles, and a red flag law.

Districts were able to submit separate grant applications for each building. Due to the large number of applications received, high-priority projects submitted on the first day were assigned random numbers to determine the order of funding up to the available $25 million. The final grant award values will be determined after recipients get complete bids from contractors. Schools were able to apply with qualifying projects for up to $500,000 per building.