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No new school security tax talks as sheriff remains opposed

In the wake of last month’s defeat of Butler County’s first school security tax, local district officials say they will seek other funding in 2019 to make their schools safer.

And the top county law enforcement leader who publicly opposed the tax hike said he will continue his surveillance of their efforts, especially if schools again seek more tax dollars.

In November a 10-year, 1.5-mill property tax increase to fund school security and mental health counselors was rejected by voters 53 percent to 47 percent in the five districts — Fairfield, Hamilton, Monroe, Edgewood and New Miami — seeking the levy.

MORE: Voters reject 1st school security tax in Southwest Ohio

The historic school tax, which was among the first sought among any Ohio district, was also unique for its opposition as Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones conducted an extraordinary public lobbying against it.

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MORE: Sheriff blasts school security tax as a ‘money grab’ by districts

That won’t change, Jones told the Journal-News on Wednesday.

“I don’t work for the school boards, I work for the people,” said Jones, who continues to contend the five participating districts should fund security improvement through existing funds rather than seek a tax increase from their residents.

“I believe I had a role in the defeat and I’m going to scrutinize everything they do when they ask for tax money for security,” he said. “They took such a defeat at the polls. They should listen to the people.”

Leaders at the five districts said they have no current plans to pursue another security tax.

If the school tax increase had been approved by voters it would have meant millions of dollars over the next decade to pay for enhanced security and mental health counselors for schools in the five districts.

Half of Butler County’s public school districts have a new type of security tax on the fall ballot.

Chris Brown, superintendent of the Butler County Educational Services Center, which oversaw the five school systems’ proposed tax told the Journal-News that “no further discussions have taken place regarding the Butler County school financing district. Our director of public school safety continues to work closely with partner districts to support safety and security initiatives throughout the county.”

MORE: Initial reaction: School leaders backing security tax hike talk

The safety of students and staffers remains a priority of the highest order, said school leaders.

“Prior to the levy, Hamilton City Schools maintained safe and secure school environments for our students and staff and regardless of the levy outcome we will continue to do so,” said Larry Knapp, superintendent of the 10,000-student district.

Fairfield Schools Superintendent Billy Smith said, “we are not currently having any discussions about another school finance district levy or our own security levy.”

The school shooting massacres at high schools in Florida and Texas last school year prompted Fairfield and other local districts to expand their security assessments of their buildings and procedures, often with the help of local police.

“We do work very closely with our city and township police departments,” said Smith. “For years, our district has had a safety committee that meets regularly. Local law enforcement is represented on that committee. In addition, our district will be proceeding with safety and security assessments throughout the course of the 2018-2019 school year and law enforcement will be included in those assessments.”

Superintendents said they are continuing to apply for state and federal school safety grants, which have become more numerous in Ohio and nationwide in the wake of the school shootings.

Russ Fussnecker, superintendent of Edgewood Schools — which was the first district in the county to place armed school security officers in all its schools prior to the levy — said, “we will continue to work with our community’s first responders and law enforcement partners, as well as research financial resources such as grants, to support ongoing safety and security efforts for our district.”

“Likewise, we will continue to train our staff and students to ensure they are prepared for emergency situations,” said Fussnecker.

Knapp said the task of school safety is made harder without the local tax money.

“Without the additional funding the levy would have provided we are now still moving forward but only at a fraction of what we had hoped,” said Knapp.

“That being said, we accept the communities decision and will continue to make every effort to insure the safety and well being of everyone in our schools with the resources we have available and those we can gather from other entities,” he said.

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