April 20, 2014

Elyria
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School security measure advances in the Legislature

VERMILION — The city’s school district hopes to be able to make use of a proposed change in state law that will permit schools to earmark levies to improve safety.

Manning

“We’re looking to get this on the ballot this fall,” David Rice, president of the Vermilion school board, said this week.

But that hinges on the passage of Senate Bill 42, which was introduced into the Ohio Senate by state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and state Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. The bill was introduced in the wake of the tragedies in which lone gunmen killed 26 students and teachers in Newtown, Conn., and three students at Chardon High School in 2012.

Vermilion officials already have had one community meeting about the prospects of putting the measure before voters in November.

“This is happening so quickly,” Rice said. “I’ve never seen legislation get pushed through this fast.”

Rice recently testified before the Ohio Senate Ways and Means Committee about the need for such a measure to try and make schools safer.

“When you go to those hearings, there’s always somebody in opposition to measures,” Rice said. “There is no opposition to this legislation at all.”

Manning said she had hoped to be able to bring the bill to a Senate vote before the state Legislature recesses.

“Unfortunately, it’s going to be a couple of weeks yet,” Manning said. “I hope to get it to a vote as an emergency measure when we return because I know Vermilion wants to get it on the ballot.”

The measure has yet to come before the Ohio House.

Manning and Gardner introduced the bill after talking with Vermilion school officials after the Newtown shootings. The district wanted to put a school security tax issue before voters but learned state law made no provision for such a ballot issue.

Superintendent Phil Pempin has said school officials felt a safety-only levy would be more attractive to voters in the 2,200-student district.

The district pays a portion of the roughly $40,000 it costs for a Vermilion police officer to work in the schools as a resource officer. But the district wants to upgrade surveillance cameras and install alarms on the building doors.

Rice estimated Vermilion could bulk up security measures, including the hiring of more resource officers for less than $200,000 a year.

“One thing that the community communicated very clearly is that they feel very safe for their children with SROs in the schools,” Rice said. “Security cameras can only do so much. Eyes in the schools can see someone who is nervous, or wearing a big overcoat, or who acts like they don’t belong there.”

Plans call for creation of a committee of parents and other community members to evaluate what specific safety and security measures should be sought should such a levy come to pass.

Rice, whose wife Cammera is a former Army officer and a teacher at Lorain’s Constellation School, said he also thinks the idea of arming qualified teachers should be looked at “on a case-by-case basis.”

“I don’t want anyone to be a sitting duck in a classroom with fourth-graders,” Rice said.

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