Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Plano school board backs plan for armed guards on campuses
Superintendent Matkin proposed a Tax Ratification Election to secure funding.
PLANO Plano ISD board members on Tuesday threw their support behind a plan to place armed security guards at district campuses.
The discussion came a month after a fatal shooting left 26 dead at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. A week after the shooting, Plano Superintendent Richard Matkin sent a letter to parents indicating he would bring "aggressive recommendations" to the school board regarding student safety, including posting armed security personnel at all campuses.
At Tuesday's meeting, trustees were presented with three proposals. The first would see two armed security guards placed at every senior high school, as well as one guard each at the district's 69 other campuses.
The second proposal would see each campus staffed with one armed guard, while the third would place one guard at each elementary, early childhood, and middle school, in addition to the district's three upcoming academy high schools. No additional security guards would be stationed at the district's high schools under the third proposal.
The presence of the guards, which will supplement existing school liaison officers at the district's high schools, is intended to provide immediate response to serious campus security threats, including armed intruders, and control access to campuses, Matkin said.
The proposals are estimated to cost between $2.2 million and $2.7 million. The latter figure, Matkin said, would double the district's security budget.
Funding for the program would come from the district's fund balance, which district officials estimate will be $150 million to $155 million at the end of the current school year.
"We, since 2006, have been adding to [the] fund balance on an annual basis, knowing at some point we would hit the wall and then have to make sure that we can fund things on a consistent basis until we can get some kind of relief," Matkin said. "I firmly believe that we will get some relief at the end of this legislative session, and we know that there is potential at the end of this [school finance] lawsuit."
If the Legislature does not provide additional funding, Matkin said he would recommend the board initiate a Tax Ratification Election to increase property taxes over the current rate of $1.04 per $100 of valuation.
"We would go to the general public and say, is safety and security at the top of your list, also? Would you be willing to fund that?" he said.
Trustees were widely receptive to the plan. Mike Friedman, Place 4, said the number of calls he received relating to campus security in the wake of the Newtown shooting doubled those relating to last year's hotly contested boundary realignment.
"Maybe instead of using the word 'cost,' I'd like to use the word 'investment,' because it is an absolute investment in our future and our kids," he said of the proposal. "Nothing's more important."
Carolyn Moebius, Place 2, said she prefers the district's proposal to recent talk in the national media of giving teachers and administrators weapons.
"They have a specific job to be on campus and take care of our children and teach, and they should not be armed," she said. "... I think we need someone who is a dedicated professional, who understands how to handle weapons and has been trained in that type of situation."
With the board's support, staff members will request proposals from private security firms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Matkin said the district is not considering asking local police departments for such services because they would not have the capacity to serve every school, though the Plano Police Department will help the district interview candidates for the security contract.
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