School safety was a recurring theme at the most recent Talawanda Board of Education meeting, with staff, students and parents sharing their concerns.
The meeting opened with the topic being raised twice in the public participation part of the agenda. Both included calls for the hiring of more school resource officers, suggesting one be assigned to each building in the district, rather than the two officers now used to cover all five buildings.
Middle school teacher John Brinck told the board of a letter sent to Governor John Kasich by students at the school. He said it was entirely their idea and sent to the governor to suggest the state provide funding to districts to help finance the cost of full-time school resource officers in every building.
The letter also noted resource officer Matt Wagers’ time is shared with other buildings in the district and the students said they want him in the middle school building full-time.
Brinck said Wagers has formed a bond with students at the school, echoing the idea in the letter that he does more than provide protection, even having recently played dodgeball with them.
“From the teachers’ standpoint, he can be a mediator between students and teachers,” Brinck said, explaining the SRO is often approached by students with a problem and he can intercede with teachers to facilitate a solution with staff members. “It’s a good thing when he’s there.”
Brinck introduced eighth grader John Nelson, the middle school student body president.
“I want to please ask that Mr. Wagers be there full-time,” the eighth grader said. He then approached the board table and placed a petition to that effect in front of them.
Brinck said the petition was a student effort and contained approximately 170 signatures and would likely have had more but was done on short notice ahead of the night’s meeting.
The topic of school safety came up again just minutes later when Randall Stigall also spoke. He said he is involved with the Marshall PTG and had spoken with people across the district. He said he was there to formally request the board fund full-time school resource officers and they be assigned in each building.
“We request the board take common sense steps to protect our students and staff,” he said, adding it had been four weeks since the incident at a Maryland school which had a resource officer in the building acting to save lives. “That resource officer responded within seconds because he was on duty in the building.”
He went on the list several other regional districts which have taken actions to place an officer in each building, including Edgewood which doubled the number of SROs to have one in each building, and Boone County, Kentucky, which hired 14 so that every building would have one.
“Our district is 144 square miles and has 3,000 students. I believe funding resource officers is an imperative,” he said. “I think it is certainly well worth it and in line with the priority of school safety.”
The topic of school safety came up again when board member Mary Jane Roberts gave her monthly legislative liaison report noting several bills in the state legislature dealing with that topic.
She spoke about House Bill 318, which deals with school resource officers and is now in the Senate for its consideration.
The bill prescribes training and qualifications for SROs to make that consistent across the state so that duties are clearly defined and not subject to the interpretation of individual districts or school principals. In a time of many unfunded state mandates, however, Roberts said this bill proposes $10 million to help districts fund the cost of added school resource officers.
She said there is also discussion of a proposal to have county Educational Service Centers place levies on country-wide ballots for funds to use in school security in schools around a county. A meeting is planned for the Butler County ESC to consider such a levy but board member Michael Crowder added a caution the district will need to be careful if that happens about the cost/benefit difference.
He said the Talawanda district is “land rich” meaning a levy might generate more money than a levy would bring back into the district if state funding formulas are used to calculate benefit from that money.
District Treasurer and CFO Mike Davis said that is real concern and they would need to watch that in regard to any proposal being considered.
In yet another mention of the topic of school safety, Superintendent Kelly Spivey told the board the district had received questions about the fact schools are closed on general election days when many people are in the buildings to vote. Those days are staff-only days and she said questions had been raised about closing for the May 8 primary for the same reason.
She announced the decision had been made to close school for that day, too, for staff day training and formal announcement of that would go out the day after the meeting.
Spivey added there is a bill being considered by the legislature which would require no classes on election days because of the numbers of people with access to schools.
Finally, at the end of the meeting, in the board comment part of the agenda, board member Patrick Meade said all the discussion of school safety and possible hiring of school resource officers for each building was important but that was not going to happen the next day.
He closed his comments by asking, “What do we do in the meantime?”