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School police focus of bill; Superintendents worry about funding


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Schools could get help from the state paying for added security, but superintendents are concerned about how long the money would last.

State lawmakers are considering whether to help schools pay for full-time resource officers. Currently, Center Grove, which has its own police department, is the only local school district with a full-time police officer at any of its buildings. Franklin has one school resource officer, an off-duty Franklin Police Department officer, who is at the high school for about two hours a day.

A proposal being considered by the state legislature would set aside $10 million each year that school districts could use to pay for half or $50,000 — whichever is less — of the cost of a school resource officer. State Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, one of the bill’s co-authors, said that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were the impetus behind providing additional security for Indiana schools.

“As sad as it is, it takes events like Newtown to really open up your eyes to this,” he said.

SCHOOL OFFICERS

School resource officer: Someone who has a law enforcement background — in many cases a police officer — as well as training in how to work with students

Cost: The cost can range from $40,000 to $70,000 depending on how much equipment and training the school district is paying for.

The proposal: School districts could apply for $50,000, or 50 percent, of the cost of a school resource officer — whichever is less.

How much: $10 million a year

Requirements: Those details still have to be worked out

How long: That depends on the General Assembly, which would consider whether to continue providing the funding during the next budget session, two years from now

SOURCES: State Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, area school superintendents

Wyss said that he would rather help pay for school resource officers, who would have a law enforcement background and be trained in how to work with students than consider arming teachers. If a shooting were to happen at a school, a resource officer would have more training in how to fire a weapon and deal with the stress of the situation than a teacher who has been shown how to fire a gun, he said.

“To go and put a teacher in that spot is, I think, ridiculous,” he said.

The proposal doesn’t list an end date for the funding, but lawmakers could alter the amount of money given to school districts that apply for funding for resource officers in two years. That means the funding could increase or decrease, and superintendents are leery about adding an employee when they can count on having the money to pay them for only two years.

“Whenever it’s a grant or something that has a short time period, you have to be very careful about spending that. You need to make sure you can afford it in a general budget,” Clark-Pleasant interim Superintendent Becky Courtney-Knight said.

School superintendents started to review their security procedures after the shootings last year. Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools plan to add buzzers and possibly cameras to the entrances of their school buildings to make them safer. Center Grove, which also recently hired a third full-time police officer, is planning additional security upgrades, including playground lighting and emergency power for communications, as a part of building projects set to begin next year.

Superintendents from Franklin, Clark-Pleasant and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson all would like to add at least one full-time resource officer, but none of them knows how to pay for it.

The cost of one school resource officer could be $40,000 to $70,000, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Superintendent Matt Prusiecki and Courtney-Knight said. And Franklin is looking for cuts because property tax caps are limiting the amount of money the school district has to make its debt payments.

If the state approves covering half the cost of resource officers, then Prusiecki, Courtney-Knight and Franklin Superintendent David Clendening all said they would consider hiring a full-time resource officer.

Center Grove already has three full-time officers working for its police department, but Superintendent Richard Arkanoff said he would still apply for funds for the district.

Any money Center Grove receives from the state to pay for the police department would allow the school district to use money currently being spent on officers’ pay and benefits for other expenses, such as to hire more teachers, Arkanoff said.

But first, school officials would have to consider whether they could still afford the resource officers or teachers if the state’s funding stopped, he said.

“You hate to add something and have to get rid of it in a year because the funds run out,” Arkanoff said.

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