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Schools: Tax hike for security no safe bet

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Taxpayers could vote on whether to pay more to fund school security officers and safety upgrades for the buildings, but local school officials aren’t sure they should be asked.

A proposal at the Statehouse would allow schools to raise property taxes to pay for security officers and safety upgrades in schools, but local school officials don’t think they would ask taxpayers for more money in a referendum.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would let school districts ask voters for permission to raise property taxes for security staff and upgrades. Clark-Pleasant and Franklin school officials said Johnson County residents, who have defeated multiple referendums for schools as well as for a new Franklin library branch during the past five years, don’t want to see their taxes raised.

If state lawmakers are serious about helping pay for added school security, legislators need to set aside money in the state’s budget used to fund schools.

“I think going to the voters for multiple purposes is not a good idea, (or) a great way to run schools. There seem to be other methods and mechanisms to pay for school safety,” Clark-Pleasant Superintendent Patrick Spray said.

Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill awarding matching grants of up to $50,000 for school districts to pay for security officers or to buy equipment such as cameras and motion detectors for their buildings. Five of Johnson County’s six public school districts received grant money, ranging from $13,250 to $50,000.

Schools can’t count on that money being available after a new state budget is set in 2015. Before school officials can hire security officers, they need to know where the money to cover those employees’ salaries is coming from after next year.

Clark-Pleasant received $50,000 from the grant, and Spray is working with administrators at the high school to see what additional security equipment is needed and whether the school district can

afford to hire a security officer with the grant, Spray said.

If lawmakers consistently provided money for security staff and equipment, just as the state budgets money that schools use to pay for teachers, then school officials would have an easier time making those decisions, Spray said.

Franklin is limited in what can be done to upgrade security and to make any other building

changes because of property tax caps. Last year the school district was able to build more secure entrances at its elementary schools largely because of an about $100,000 contribution from the Franklin Redevelopment Commission.

Franklin would like to add more cameras to the schools, but right now Superintendent David Clendening isn’t anticipating starting any major security projects.

“We realize we’re going to have some expenses with just continuing to maintain a secure environment. But nothing big and new on that horizon,” he said.

Greenwood schools would consider asking voters for additional money for security.

Greenwood was the one Johnson County school district that was denied a security grant from the state because when the school district submitted its security proposal school officials highlighted increasing security around athletics facilities, instead of the schools, Superintendent Kent DeKoninck said.

He said Greenwood schools are safe, though he’d prefer to add security cameras to some of the buildings. If schools have the option of asking voters for additional money to cover those expenses, then administrators should explore the possibility, he said.

“I think the more options we can have that allow us to raise needed funds for the district is a positive,” he said.

But before residents would be asked to vote on a tax increase, DeKoninck would need to talk with residents about what security upgrades he’d like to make to Greenwood and why they’re necessary. That way taxpayers know exactly what they’re being asked to pay for and can make an informed decision, he said.

“The way you hopefully alleviate (taxpayers’) concern is you make people a part of the process you’re going through,” DeKoninck said.

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