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A review of Billings School District 2 reveals important safety suggestions



Billings, Montana – Following a school audit that identified areas for improvement, Billings School District 2 is implementing some adjustments regarding safety.

Following a surge in violent crimes and increased gang activity in Billings, the district decided to hire experts to help figure out how to improve staff and student safety.

“We’ve got gang activity happening from the middle schools all the way on up,” said Joe Halligan, the district’s safety and emergency management coordinator. “That’s no secret to our community.”

Numerous suggestions were given to enhance the audit.

“Every single building would somehow be impacted for the good with this particular project,” Halligan said. “The hope is that we can really just come into the 21st Century and just be aligned with other schools around the country.”

Change recommendations were made for all 37 district facilities, including gang prevention initiatives. Gang Resistance Education and Training, or GREAT, is just the beginning.

“One of those programs we are exploring is called GREAT. It’s a nationally recognized research-based program that we are bringing to our system,” said Erwin Garcia, the superintendent of the district. “We don’t have that currently. To do something like that we will need the resources.”

Surveillance and intercom system upgrades are among the other suggestions.

“We’re pretty far behind when it comes to the technological capacities of our schools,” Halligan said. “Particularly surrounding surveillance cameras, PA systems, just internal communications within the school. Just the ability for our teachers and administrators to be able to be able to communicate with one another.”

Halligan began his job lately, having previously served as a principal.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “There wasn’t one school that escaped (the audit) without some sort of safety need, some sort of improvement.”

He will collaborate directly with employees, supporting their preparation and training.

“The hope of my role is just to perhaps take some of those things off of their plates when it comes to the safety and security procedures and protocols,” Halligan said. “I’m meeting with school safety teams, we’re talking about radio protocols.”

However, surveillance advancements won’t come cheaply.

“Just to update an entire system for campuses that don’t even have cameras, and for campuses that have cameras but they’re very outdated, the cost is about $19 million,” Garcia said. “We don’t have to invest $19 million, but we can get a $5 million package where we can renew all of our systems, ensure that every single building has a camera system, and be more sensitive to the public.”

In May, the district is expected to request a mill levy of $5 to $19 million.

“I don’t want to bring something to the taxpayers that is going to overwhelm them. I am going to try to look for efficiencies,” Garcia said. “But at the same time, we have to ask.”

Expensive yet essential in the long run.

“We’re going back to the public to say, ‘Look, we have to address these issues. If we don’t address them now, we’re going to pay the price,’” Garcia said. “Our goal is to present that information in this upcoming semester so the public can support us as we run a safety levy in the month of May. For the most part, I’ve seen people talk to members of our community, and they’re very receptive. Some people, of course, they look at their pockets and it’s hard to really argue that. I mean, difficult times. But the cost of not addressing these problems now is way too expensive if we think about the future.”


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