July 31, 2014

Elyria
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Manning sponsors bill for schools to levy for safety, security taxes

A bill co-sponsored by state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, seeks to give local school boards the authority to put levies on the ballot that would ask voters to approve tax hikes to be exclusively used for school safety and security.

State law does not have any provision to allow school districts to put such measures before voters, nor does it allow funds to be used specifically for school security, according to a statement from Manning, who is co-sponsoring the measure with fellow state Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green.

The proposed bill came about following conversations between the legislators and officials of the Vermilion Schools following the Sandy Hook tragedy during which 26 schoolchildren and adults were killed.

“Vermilion came up with the idea but learned they could not authorize such an issue for the ballot on their own,” said Manning, a former teacher. “They needed state legislation that would give school districts a choice. I wanted to try and give them the tool they asked for, even though it would still be up to voters to do it or not.”

Vermilion Schools Superintendent Phil Pempin said he heard from a lot of concerned residents after Sandy Hook.

“I don’t know if this community was more concerned than most, but we got a lot of calls asking what we were doing with school safety,” Pempin said.

A recent community meeting on school safety was better attended than most community-school gatherings, Pempin said.

Part of the idea behind such a safety-only levy would be making it more attractive to voters.

“We know money is tight everywhere, but by earmarking funds specifically toward safety, it might make a community more agreeable to fund just that type of initiative,” Pempin said.

David Rice, president of the Vermilion school board, said the 2,200-student district pays a percentage of the costs of a school resource officer (a Vermilion police officer) from its general fund.

“At one time that was fully funded by a federal grant, but that was since cut out,” Rice said. “If you have those costs come (entirely) out of the general fund, that’s a teacher or other things you’re taking away from educating our kids.”

Vermilion school officials are in the process of looking to upgrade security cameras, install alarms to all doors that would sound when opened from the inside, and ensure all doors and locks work properly, Pempin said.

The proposed bill would empower communities “to decide how much they want to spend” on safety measures, Rice said.

Rice also favors counselors “to find kids with issues that can range from a parent on drugs to being raped to no food at home.”

“These are social issues that can leave a kid saying “I’m angry,’ ” Rice said.

Avon Schools Superintendent Mike Laub said he was not aware of the proposed bill.

“I’m sure this is something a lot of districts would consider for expanding what they currently do with safety and security,” Laub said.

Avon Schools recently had a community forum to discuss safety issues during which people asked about added physical security measures such as steel doors, metal detectors, and armed security personnel, as well as acquiring additional counselors to work with troubled students in hopes of averting problems including possible violence.

“Safety comes first, but you can’t add things without impacting the budget elsewhere,” Laub said.

Rice projected Vermilion could beef up school security, including hiring more school resource officers for less than $200,000 a year, with SROs costing an average $40,000 each.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.