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Few Northland schools win security money

Denfeld High School (file / News Tribune)

Only 10 percent of Minnesota schools vying for new security improvement and violence prevention money were awarded any, and only a handful of Northland schools were among them.

The Minnesota Department of Education announced Monday who would receive a piece of the $25 million allotment, an amount passed by Gov. Mark Dayton and the state Legislature last spring in the wake of recent highly publicized mass school shootings.

The state education department received applications this summer for $255.5 million in improvements from 1,187 public schools. Just 123 were awarded.

"Hopefully the state takes a good look at this and sees the need is more than 10 times the allotted budget figure," said Steve Battaglia, principal of Cloquet Senior High School.

Cloquet unsuccessfully requested nearly $500,000 for its middle and high schools.

Projects given the highest priority by the state included improvements to school entrances and communication systems. Each school building in a district was eligible for $500,000. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Minnesota School Safety Center worked with the education department to decide grant winners, which were chosen at random once they met two requirements: an application submitted the first day and with high priority projects. Half of the money went outside the 11-county metropolitan area.

The Duluth school district was awarded money for Denfeld High School and Rockridge Academy — less than $75,000 total — but had requested $1.7 million between 15 of its school buildings.

Superintendent Bill Gronseth said Monday that the district was "fortunate to have many existing security features in our schools, which is likely why many of our requests were not granted."

He said he was hopeful the district would still receive federal grant money geared at the same entrance improvements that it requested in partnership with the Duluth Police Department.

The Hermantown district, which, like Duluth, recently improved schools, did not get any of the nearly $500,000 it requested in its application.

"We feel pretty good about what we have done here security-wise," said superintendent Kerry Juntunen, but new money would have allowed a redesigned elementary school entrance. He too, hopes the takeaway of lawmakers is that schools statewide need more money to improve security.

Proctor's combined high and middle schools received $40,000 for bullet-resistant window glaze and alarms for entrances. The district was awarded nothing for its elementary schools.

The money for the secondary building will mean two "major needs" will be addressed, said principal Tim Rohweder.

Education commissioner Brenda Cassellius echoed many area school leaders when she said the $25 million wasn't enough. (Dayton had proposed a costlier, more comprehensive package.)

"When we have more than 1,000 schools asking for over $250 million in funding to secure their buildings, we must respond with urgency," Cassellius said in a news release. "The school safety grants announced today only scratch the surface."

She said money for school climate improvements, expanded mental health services and "common-sense gun safety measures" is also needed.

Area school districts that received portions of requested safety grant money include Chisholm, Hibbing and St. Louis County. Those that requested money but were denied include Cook County, Ely, Esko, Eveleth-Gilbert, Floodwood, Grand Rapids, Greenway, Lake Superior and Virginia school districts and North Shore Community School and Duluth Edison Charter Schools.

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