Sequim school board OKs emergency spending policy

Sequim school leaders have a bit more flexibility to address emergency issues after Sequim School Board directors last week approved a policy allowing for quicker responses to urgent district needs.

In a 4-0 vote on Sept. 19, directors agreed to approve Policy 6620 that allows the district to waive bid requirements for certain purchases. Those purchases may include “clearly and legitimately limited to a single source of supply; involving special facilities or market conditions; in the event of an emergency; of insurance or bonds; and involving public works in the event of an emergency,” according to the policy.

“Emergency,” the policy states, is defined as “unforeseen circumstances beyond the district’s control that present a real, immediate threat to the proper performance of essential functions or will likely result in material loss or damage to property, bodily injury, or loss of life if immediate action is not taken.”

Board director Patrice Johnston said the policy would allow for school board directors to have a say in the emergency pending, in a regular or special meeting, when the superintendent could explain the need and timing of emergency funding.

The policy change comes two weeks after school staff found graffiti and damage at Helen Haller Elementary School and Sequim Middle School that include swastikas and a reference to a school shooting.

District leaders have agreed to prioritize installing new security cameras tentatively starting in December, they said during a Sept. 14 community meeting regarding school safety.

The policy provides exemptions for district spending in the same policy: spending for furniture, supplies or equipment (but no books) of $40,000 or less requires no competitive bidding process; spending of $40,000-$75,000 required the board to follow an informal competitive bidding process by requiring quotes from at least three different sources, and spending of $75,000 or more required a more stringent bidding process.

A focus on improvements to school security, board president Erik Pickens said on Sept. 19, “was certainly communicated to us in the public forum.”

“I definitely heard that sense of urgency and ‘get it done’,” board director Larry Jeffryes said.

Sequim schools superintendent Regan Nickels said installation of security cameras have been moved from Tier 3 to Tier 1 in the district’s capital projects levy that voters approved in February 2021.

That installation won’t happen immediately, she noted then and at the Sept. 19 meeting, but boosting security at schools can be expedited.

Some wiring at school campuses is about 30 years old, she said.

“Any solution we find is going to depending on that building and what cabling needs to happen,” Nickels said.

Chris Marfori of Wenaha Group, the lead project manager overseeing Sequim’s capital levy projects, said security technology upgrades are possible sooner rather than later, but would be planned well so they would fit in with the overall district security improvements.

“There’s a complexity in doing an upgrade across the entire system [but there is] a way to implement small portions of it,” Marfori told board directors on Sept. 19.

For example, Marfori said, security devices operating on an independent system could be implemented at Sequim Middle School and later be added to the overall district system later on.

“We don’t want to put something in but with no means to manage and monitor it,” Marfori said. “[We want] something functional, and not just there.”

“We want it to be money well spent,” Nickels said. “We’re still figuring that part out.

“I think with the emergency we’re more focused on the interim solutions.”

An overall security system, Marfori said, could have aspects that could allow for staff to electronically lock access points if an emergency demanded it, or conversely unlock those doors in the event of an emergency such as a fire.

Board director Maren Halvorsen said while she is appreciative of addressing security concerns with cameras, she hopes the district will focus on

“[I hope we] find ways to reach all of our students so that we aren’t at risk of something that has happened in so many other districts,” she said on Sept. 19. “We can build a strong community.”

Nickels said the district is hosting two events for staff to address social and emotional learning issues; staff would be paid to attend those events.

Capital projects progress

A number of capital levy projects are complete or very near completion, Marfori said, including 20-year warranty-covered roof re-coats at Sequim Middle School and Olympic Peninsula Academy.

Fiber optic infrastructure upgrades across the district are about 80 percent complete, he noted, that allow for a number of other technology improvements.

Heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades at OPA and Sequim High School have gone to bid, Marfori said.