The campaign hasn’t officially started for five local school districts and their school security tax hikes on the fall ballot, but they are already facing opposition from the county’s top law enforcement officer.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said he opposes what he described as a “money grab” by local school officials, who back the proposed tax increase as helping to pay for security improvements in Hamilton, Fairfield, Monroe, Edgewood and New Miami schools.
“I believe (the school districts) all have enough money to do what they need to do” to enhance school building security against an armed attack, said Jones, referring to the types of shootings that left dozens dead earlier this year in Florida and Texas high schools.
Jones — a long-time advocate for arming some, qualified school staffers to help protect schools — announced Tuesday evening he would not support the new school levy in Hamilton after school officials there reversed their earlier stance to adopt his controversial approach.
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On Wednesday, Jones — who had previously remained neutral about the 1.5-mill, 10-year security tax increase — broadened his opposition and criticized the collective effort of the five districts to win over voters for more tax money.
“If the citizens in those communities want to raise their taxes, that fine. But I believe they (levies in each district) are all a money grab,” Jones told the Journal-News.
In their unanimous vote on a resolution Tuesday, the Hamilton school board cited a need to see the outcome of the November ballot issue — and more study of the idea of arming some, trained school staffers — in reversing their previous position that had aligned with Jones’ proposal.
School officials came to that position in June after Jones unveiled a billboard — pad for by private money — in downtown Hamilton questioning city school district officials’ commitment to improving school safety
When asked Wednesday to respond to Jones’ comments, Hamilton Schools Superintendent Larry Knapp released a statement saying the school board and district administration “remains dedicated to providing safe and secure schools for our 10,000 students and 1,200 employees.”
Hamilton school officials “look forward to continued conversations at our town hall meetings where the safety and security needs of the district will be shared. The goal of the district is for the community to provide meaningful input as the levy is a community decision,” said Knapp.
Hamilton City Schools, which has already hired more armed security guards and installed additional security devices and procedures for the just-started school year, will continue to work closely with the city’s police force in protecting its schools, he said.
“Our continued collaborative working relationship with the Hamilton City Police Department remains strong and their input along with the voices of our community will help guide the Hamilton City Schools Board of Education and administration safety and security decision-making,” said Knapp.
The board said it may later decide to allow some school staffers access to firearms during the school day, but among them will not be teachers.
Chris Brown, superintendent of the Butler County Educational Services Center (BCESC), declined to comment on Jones’ latest statement about the proposed tax hike.
Superintendents for Fairfield, Monroe and New Miami did not respond Wednesday to multiple messages from the Journal-News seeking their comments.
Edgewood school officials released a statement, however, disputing Jones’ characterization of the levy, saying a review of the school system’s finances will show “this levy is not a ‘money grab’ for our district.”
Edgewood, which hired more armed security guards this year and now has them stationed at all schools, said officials had already acted to make schools safer but wants to do more yet can’t without more funding.
“We want to take action on upgrading and adding security cameras, adding safety glass and security barriers at entrances, upgrading our visitor management system as well as expanding professional mental health services for our students. Safety and security needs are ever evolving and the funds made available (from the levy) will assist in addressing unforeseen situations in the future,” officials said in the statement.
Jones has grabbed national media attention since 2012 when he first advocated qualified school staffers who volunteer should have access to firearms in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting that left 26 dead.
After the February shooting in a Parkland, Fla., high school killed 17, Jones offered free Conceal Carry Warrant (CCW) training to Butler County teachers, and dozens took the offer.
Jones has vowed he would continue to pressure all local school systems and said after the Hamilton school board vote this week he will place more billboards critical of that school system around the city. He did not reveal when or where those billboards would be unveiled, nor the content of their messages.