MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen ISD is to purchase state-of-the-art drones to boost security at all of its campuses, including monitoring for illegal drug activity.

The school district will also be increasing the size of its police force and making sure its booths are manned at all parking lots.

The beefed up security measures were explained by Sam Saldivar, Jr., the MISD board president, at a recent meeting of McAllen Economic Development Corporation. Saldivar gave an overview of MISD activities, including details on its strategic plan and the master-planning of its facilities.

Sam Saldivar, Jr.
Sam Saldivar, Jr.

“On the security situation, this is an ongoing concern, both from the security standpoint and also with regard to drugs,” Saldivar said. “We are going to hire additional police, we are going to revamp the parking lot area, the booths are going to be upgraded with somebody there to see that the parking lot is secure and purchase state-of-the-art drones that will patrol the entire campus. We will monitor the comings and goings and any activities that are going on. We will have much more “eyes” available, obviously, on what is going on, on the campus.”

After Saldivar had given his presentation, the chairman of MEDC, Robert Lozano, asked if there were any questions. Dr. Cayetano Barrera, III, of McAllen, asked: “How big a drug problem do we have in our schools?”

Saldivar said that as a trustee, he had to be cautious on how he addressed the issue.

“It is a serious concern. It is not one that we’re shying from,” Saldivar responded. “As you know, we’re one of the lead school districts that brought the community together at an event at Rowe High School in which we had behavioral professionals come in, and the university, UTRGV Health Science. We had law enforcement and the sheriff there, talking about this.”

Saldivar said MISD is looking at the drug problem “holistically” and in various ways.

“The bottom line is these are children that are being preyed upon. These are children who are not making the best choices for a number of reasons. There may be issues at home, there may be emotional issues and they’re seeking some sort of remedy. And so, yeah, it’s a big concern and one we need to confront. We’re addressing it in various levels.”

Saldivar said it is important that the issue of illegal drugs is not portrayed in a way that would deter parents from moving to McAllen and sending their children to McAllen schools.

“What we don’t want is to be publicizing it in such a way that it creates an alarm and anybody with any interest in coming into to our metropolitan area and is looking for some quality school district that they would shy away from McAllen ISD, with its strong academic background, and the various choices we offer, IB, Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, Concurrent, etc., because of this issue. And it’s not just McAllen, it’s nationwide, every school district, every community is having these issues.”

IB stands for International Baccalaureate.

Nonetheless, Saldivar said he was pleased McAllen ISD is discussing the issue.

“I’m glad we are talking about it in the sense of having this discussion. But, what I say is that, to a point, this should not bring concern and alarm and a different approach to the one we are taking, which is very purposeful, very well-planned, using our health facilities,” Saldivar said.

“We have five vendors we use for emotional aspects. We are now going to leverage that with our employees as well. As we recently found out, there are employees with drug dependency, so we are going to start leveraging that as well and help them through this as much as possible. That’s where we are at, at this point. That is probably the best way I would prefer to discuss it.”

In his overview of all things MISD, Saldivar reported that a new superintendent has been appointed – Jose A. Gonzalez. Saldivar gave details on MISD’s strategic plan. He said the plan is to implement its objectives and goals within the next three to five years. He said a master planner has been hired to look at the District’s facilities. Saldivar said the fund balance for 2015-16 stands at $74.8 million, up from $74.3 million in 2014-15. He said MISD has spent $7.8 million on facilities and said the plan is to upgrade all AC systems at all campuses. He also said MISD is in the process of purchasing five new buses to take students to competitions.

Saldivar also spoke about a revamped general assembly that had taken place. He said all the accolades – including 150 trophies – students have received were unveiled. “They were all paraded in by students to demonstrate to the community all the accomplishments that these young people have made.”

Editor’s Note: Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story from McAllen.