With the memory of a tragic elementary school shooting fresh in their minds, state lawmakers pledged to spend millions of dollars to make schools across Indiana safer.
More than $320,000 was spent at Johnson County schools in the past two years for security officers to patrol the buildings and to create more secure entrances. Now, school officials are waiting to see how much longer that commitment will last.
In 2013, months after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, state lawmakers approved committing about $20 million over two years for school safety. Schools could apply for grants of up to $50,000 but had to commit to match whatever amount they received. They could use that money to pay for school security officers or for one-time expenses, such as cameras, door locks and buzzers.
Center Grove and Franklin used some of that money to pay for part- and full-time security officers at their schools, but most local school districts used the money to pay for security cameras, door locks, buzzers and more secured entrances.
Schools have been slow to hire more security officers with the money because there was no guarantee the state would continue to provide money. School officials worried about how they would pay a security officer they hired if the state cut or stopped the funding.
State lawmakers still plan to provide funds for security officers for schools. But they also are considering cutting the funds that paid for cameras, locks and other one-time expenses.
State Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, a co-sponsor of the legislation that created the grant two years ago, and state budget director Brian Bailey said Gov. Mike Pence has proposed budgeting $7 million for the school safety program — less than half what was originally budgeted. Burton also said the initial $7 million figure could change between now and April, when state lawmakers receive updated revenue forecasts and finalize Indiana’s budget.
The $7 million figure was included because that’s the amount Indiana schools requested to pay for school security officers, Bailey said. Budgeting a similar amount should allow those schools to continue to employ any security officers they hired, he said.
The state needs to continue to budget money for school safety, Burton said, and he is confident that lawmakers will budget enough money to keep students and teachers safe.
“In this day and age, with all the social media and the other stuff that’s out there, you don’t know when someone’s going to go off the wall and do something crazy,” Burton said.
The number of police and security officers patrolling schools varies by district.
Center Grove is the only Johnson County school district with its own police department, which includes three officers and a police dog. Franklin has a part-time security officer who spends most of the time at the high school but who can respond to calls at other buildings. If state funding continues, Clark-Pleasant wants to hire one or several officers who can patrol its schools throughout the school day.
But if schools hire officers with the grant and then the funding is cut or eliminated, then they have to use money from the general fund, which pays mostly for teachers’ salaries and benefits or cut the security officer positions.
“It would be a big problem for us,” Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said. “We just don’t have the mechanism to fund it all on our own.”
All of the county’s school districts have agreements with local police departments so that officers can stop by and walk through their buildings anytime during the school day. But Clark-Pleasant wants someone working on a full-time basis, Rains said. School officials started making plans to hire a security officer last year after receiving a $50,000 grant from the state.
“I think the intent is to have a stronger partnership. Have some folks who are more visible,” Rains said.
Franklin is using part of its $7,500 grant from last year to pay for security officers who patrol schools part time, Franklin director of operations Bill Doty said.
Both Franklin and Clark-Pleasant received grants in 2013, too, and that money was used mostly for one-time expenses. Both districts have had less money to spend on building upgrades because property tax caps limit the amount of tax money they collect.
The districts have had to make up for some of that loss by taking money from the general fund, which pays for employees, and that’s why the state grant is essential in paying for security officers, Rains and Doty said.
If the state gives schools less money than they need to pay for security officers, then Franklin and Clark-Pleasant school officials would have to review their budgets to decide if they can afford security officers, Doty and Rains said.
“To say we would definitely be able to do it, it would take a conversation with (administrators) to say what we can cut out, what we are going to do without, so we can pay for school resource officers,” Doty said.
Here are the school safety grant amounts local school districts received over the past two years. Schools were required to match the amount of the grants they received, and the grants paid for security upgrades at buildings and for security officers:
Center Grove: $50,000
Center Grove: $50,000