Education Board authorizes safety radios purchase

Martinez Unified School District Board of Education decided Monday its campuses should have a new safety radio system.

District staff had been looking to replace the current set-up because it has coverage gaps, radio batteries are dying and the manufacturer has discontinued that system, Max Eissler, chief technology officer, said.

At the same time, District staff and employees are asking for more radios. The situation, he said, “forced our hand.”

The board unanimously agreed, and the District will pay for the new system with Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) funds.

One system that had been under consideration last year turned out to be unable to handle the District’s needs, Eissler told the Board.

But that vendor was able to lead the District to another vendor, Radio Guys of Woodland, whose system not only should meet current needs, but whose digital radios can be reconfigured to keep up with changes.

The District began looking at options after several on-campus incidents. Martinez schools experienced threats written on bathroom walls at a time similar threats were being made in the Bay Area.

The new system’s five channels are on frequencies that would not be used by other agencies, Eissler said. A repeater will be installed in the District office and a tower will be placed on the roof of the Alhambra High School gymnasium to eliminate gaps.

Eissler and District Superintendent C.J. Cammack said some have wondered why the District needs radios in the age of cell phones.

Employees may not hear an “all call” communication or may not have their cell phones, Cammack said. “This is not a fix-all,” he said, but would be a preventive measure as well as a way to respond to emergencies.

Radios will work in large-scale emergencies, such as earthquakes, when cell phone coverage may become spotty and other communication systems might not work, Eissler said. The radio battery life lasts longer than the District’s own backup power, he said.

Staff can use the radios to communicate within a campus, with the District office, between schools and at off-campus sites, such as reunification centers. And their use wouldn’t be limited to emergencies. They can be used when traffic needs to be directed or during yard duty.

The new system would be more expensive than the originally-considered replacement, Eissler said. The former was expected to cost $90,000, while the Radio Guys’ system will cost $133,728.89 to buy with an additional annual cost of $18,000 for a subscriptions and battery replacement. The 295 radios should have a 10-year life span, Eissler said.

Vice President Deidre Siguenza said she wanted to make sure the new system was a good fit. Eissler agreed, but said what works at one district may not be suitable in Martinez. For instance, San Ramon’s schools use the same system currently in use in Martinez, but don’t have the same geographic challenges, he said.

Siguenza and President Jonathan Wright wanted to make sure employees were trained to use the radios, although Eissler said the new models are not complicated to operate.

District employee Kevin Stein urged the District use the radios “as regular communication, so everyone is comfortable.”

Craig Lazzeretti, a parent and Siguenza’s opponent in the November Board election, said he supported the radio purchase, calling it “a great idea” that would increase school safety.

The Board heard two updates from Assistant Superintendent Helen Rossi, one on changes to the state budget and how those changes would affect the District’s own budget, as well as what it might take to repair Alhambra High School’s swimming pool.

California’s Education Code requires the district to make any revisions in revenues and expenditures to be made public regarding funding available through the Budget Act.

Governor Jerry Brown’s revisions to the 2018-19 budget has increased the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) revenues from $35,278557 to $35,505,369. But the Average Daily Attendance reimbursement changed from $344 each to $184 each, reducing the originally projected $1,376,000 to $735,998 in 2018-19.

However, the California School Boards Association (CSBA) has filed a suit in Sacramento County Superior Court, accusing the Legislature and Brown of improperly manipulating the school funding formula used to calculate how much money schools would receive in the 2018-19 budget.

Through its challenge to a provision of Assembly Bill 1825, a budget trailer bill, CSBA is contending that the modifications could reduce revenues to public schools by three quarters of a billion dollars each year.

The formula was set through Proposition 98, the “Classroom Instructional Improvement and Accountability Act” passed by voters in 1988.

It requires a minimum percentage of the state budget to be spent on educating pupils in kindergarten through 12th grade. It also guarantees an annual increase in education in the state budget, based on economic growth.

In her second report, Rossi said the pool needs $1.6 million in repairs, and may require approval by the California Division of the State Architect (DSA) for the work.

Rossi spoke with the District’s bond coordinator as well as architect Aquatic Design to obtain estimates and to define the scope of work needed to repair the high school’s pool, which can be used for swim competitions that can’t take place at the city’s Rankin Park pool.

She listed the pool’s needs: The pool needs new plaster; its tiles around the edge are cracking; the decking has been cracking despite having been ground down during previous repairs; the mechanical system has aged and is not efficient.

She said the District could use money from its County School Facilities Fund, also designated as Fund 35, to pay for the repairs, since it has $1.9 million. But to do that would mean delaying work on the school’s lower field restrooms, sheds and training building, she said, adding it was the only money source she could find.

Because the pool area would not be expanded, the work is considered a repair and replacement by the pool architect, although the DSA isn’t sure it agrees, she said.

If the situation can be determined to represent a hardship, the District might be able to get some of that money reimbursed, she said.

The pool is used from August to June, starting with water polo, including competitions in that sport, she said.

“Can we work with the city?” Boardmember Kathi McLaughlin asked. “They used our pool.”

She also urged finding an alternative cleaning method to using chlorine. “It’s a harsh chemical.”

Wright, a swimmer himself, said Martinez and Alhambra High School have a history of competitive aquatic programs and athletes, and he urged the Board to consider acting in support of its female athletes.

Clerk Bobbi Horack said the August to June use of the pool validates its importance to the school, and Boardmember John Fuller considered the pool’s condition a safety issue.

Siguenza acknowledged its benefit to students, but said she wanted additional information, especially since other campus repairs would be delayed.

Under public comment, Lazzeretti was concerned that if the District used bond money for the pool, it might trigger the district’s Project Labor Agreement (PLA), which he contended could raise costs or limit willing bidders.

No decision was made on either issue Monday night, but could be placed on future agendas.

Concerning the pool, McLaughlin said, “I’d love to have this come back.”

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