Ashland school officials are considering installing security cameras at the district's campuses to prevent break-ins and vandalism.

Ashland school officials are considering installing security cameras at the district's campuses to prevent break-ins and vandalism.

Four laptops were stolen from a Helman Elementary School classroom last weekend and officials are worried that once construction is completed on Ashland High School's gym and music area, those buildings will be subject to break-ins, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.

School board members briefly discussed installing the cameras at their Monday meeting, and decided to hold a public hearing on the issue, tentatively scheduled for July 27.

"It feels to me as if this is a real community issue," said board member Ruth Alexander. "Having surveillance in our schools is a big step and personally I don't know how I feel about it."

Because alarms have been set off almost every weekend at Helman since the school's new library was finished in February, the board took steps to install cameras there sooner. Board members directed Di Chiro to find out how much it would cost to put in cameras at Helman.

"It just seems to me that the Helman situation is a little more urgent," board member Amy Patton said.

Since the cameras at Helman could go in before community members have a chance to weigh in and the board develops a policy on surveillance at schools, the cameras might only be turned on after school hours and on weekends, the times that break-ins usually occur anyway, Di Chiro said.

If cameras were installed at Helman, the district's emaciated general fund would have to foot the bill, unless the district received money from the Safe and Drug Free Schools grant program, Di Chiro said. However, cameras installed as part of a construction project, such as the one at Ashland High School, could be paid for with bond money, according to the superintendent.

Besides the cost, some parents might have concerns about their children being caught on camera, Di Chiro said.

"I think basically the downside has to do with student supervision and people feeling that video supervision might be too intrusive to their students," she said.

However, cameras are common at other high schools and middle schools in the region, Di Chiro said.

Sgt. Hector Meletich with the Ashland Police Department said cameras would likely help cut down on break-ins and vandalism at the schools.

"I don't know how the city feels about it, but cameras would be great," he said.

Oftentimes alarms at the schools are accidentally tripped by teachers and other school officials, so coordinating security efforts at the campuses would also save police time, he said.

"We have to respond every time and I think that we don't know when it's for real and when its not," Meletich said. "And right now, up to this point we've had very few 'for reals' but I think that the administration at the school really needs to reassess it."

The video from the cameras would probably play on a screen in an administrator's office, but typically school officials would only watch archived video — after an incident had occurred to try to determine who was responsible, Di Chiro said.

Helman Elementary School Principal Susan Hollandsworth said she supports installing cameras outside at the school, but not inside classrooms.

"I really think that the most controversy comes from not understanding their purpose if they're in a classroom," she said. "I think having cameras on the outsides of classrooms or in parking lots might be much better received."

On a weekend earlier this month, two bulletin boards in Helman's outdoor courtyard, which is not visible from the street, were set on fire and burned by vandals, Hollandsworth said. It's those types of acts, as well as thefts, that Hollandsworth thinks could be minimized with surveillance, she said.

"The people doing it might not do it if they knew there were cameras," she said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.