School districts may be allowed to put ‘safety’ levies on ballot
Written by MARIE THOMAS BAIRD Sentinel Education Editor
Saturday, 20 April 2013 08:28
Ohio legislation that could allow school districts to create local levies specifically for safety and security purposes passed the Senate earlier this month with broad bipartisan support.
Senate Bill 42 will now proceed to the Ohio House of Representatives for further consideration.
The bill was jointly sponsored by Senators Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green.
Both sponsors emphasized that the legislation does not require districts to take any action, but only gives the community the freedom to decide what is best for their kids and their local school district.
"This is by no means a mandate or a tax, but a new tool that the citizens can employ to help make their schools as safe as possible," said Gardner. "Senate Bill 42 gives additional options to our local communities by allowing the voters to create a local levy that specifically targets school safety."
Manning and Gardner initiated this legislation after the issues was raised by school leaders in Vermilion.
The bill also received the support of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, and the Ohio School Boards Association.
Gardner said he is "very pleased that both the teachers, and school boards and law enforcement came together to endorse the bill."
If passed, such a safety and security levy could last up to five years but may be renewed or replaced as any other school levy.
Revenue from the tax may be used solely for safety and security measures.
It's unlikely that any school district within Wood County would utilize the tax.
Three districts - Elmwood, Otsego and North Baltimore ¬≠- had security upgrades included in their new buildings as part of the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) projects.
"For those school districts that might want to utilize this legislation, it is totally up to them how to use it," Gardner said.
Revenue could go to pay a Student Resource Officer, or upgrade lighting or conduct physical changes to buildings, he added.
No district, he stressed, is required to utilize such a levy.
At Eastwood, which just spent more than $20,000 on building security, Superintendent Brent Welker said it was unlikely the district would have used a security levy to fund the projects.
"The problem is the time it takes to put something on the ballot and get the money," he said.
He estimated it would be a 12- to 16-month process before funding came in.
"That doesn't mean its not a good idea," Welker added.
Eastwood used permanent improvement funds and County Safe Schools Grant money to pay for its security projects, which including installing buzzers to gain entrance in all its buildings, security cameras, and a laminated film overlay for all doors.
A security levy can't be passed to pay retroactively for security upgrades.
At North Baltimore's Powell Elementary, new locks and video cameras were included in the district's OSFC project for a new high school/junior high.
The legislation "does not interest us at this time," stated Superintendent Marlene North.
Perrysburg Schools has a permanent improvement levy for such expenses, said Superintendent Tom Hosler.
While the district may not be interested in using a security levy immediately, "I think having it be specific is a good thing. It's letting voters know this is exactly how (funds) will be spent."
The bill was introduced Feb. 14 and assigned to committee March 19, one year to the day after the Chardon High School shooter was sentenced to life in prison after killing three students and wounding three in February 2012.
Gardner said the timing was coincidence.
The December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 26 were killed, prompted Eastwood to take steps.
Greg Clark, superintendent for Northwood Schools, said security was being updated in their building as early as last summer.
"We're working to try to make sure our kids are the safest they could be," he said.
About the new levy option, if it passes, "I think all options need to be considered when looking at student safety."
The district last summer installed a buzzer entry system to all three buildings, and this school year added security cameras to the buildings.
The district spent $17,400 from a combination of permanent improvement funds and a County Safe Schools Grant monies in paying for the project.
Manning's Senate district includes Lorain, Huron, and eastern Seneca counties.
Gardner represents Erie, Fulton, Lucas, Ottawa, and Wood counties.
Last Updated on Saturday, 20 April 2013 09:29