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1/20/2013 6:00:00 AM
School safety key topic for Kingman workshop

Ahron Sherman
Miner Staff Reporter

The issue of school safety is expected to heat up Wednesday when the Kingman Unified School District holds a workshop dedicated to discussing the topic in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

In the past month, plans to make schools safer have been presented by state officials, including Attorney General Tom Horne and State Sen. Rich Crandall. Horne proposed arming and training one employee at each school to handle emergencies, and Crandall proposed pumping money into the state's school resource officer program in hopes of getting more officers at more schools. But both plans have some overlap.

"Our proposal works," Crandall said in a release. "Other plans raid the general fund, which can't support any of the proposals and doesn't guarantee ongoing funding. We address mental health, school counselors and needed deputies and police officers in schools. We have 2,200 schools in Arizona and as much as we'd like, we simply can't fund an SRO in every school. Our plan also allows for school districts and charters to voluntarily choose whether or not to arm teachers and/or administrators."

Horne's plan was voluntarily as well.

Crandall's plan suggests redirecting clean elections excess funding via a ballot referral, taxing alcohol sold in the state or charging a fee for private party auto sales to come up with the $30 million his proposal would need to add 300 SROs, improve mental health assessment and expand school guidance counseling.

Kingman Police Chief Robert DeVries is a strong advocate of the SRO program, He believes it's one of the strongest tools KPD has at its disposal for both securing schools and fostering relationships with local students.

But even if the state comes up with the massive amount of funding needed to bolster the program, it would still take upwards of two years to fill the positions.

"It's not a quick fix," he said.

Once an applicant to the police department gets through the interview process, which includes a polygraph test and an extensive background check, it's 19 weeks in the police academy and 16 weeks with a field training officer, DeVries said. That's just to get one officer hired. Imagine trying to fill four or five SRO positions.

Even so, additional SROs in Kingman schools is DeVries' preferred approach to bolstering school security.

School employees and administrators already have a large list of responsibilities, he said. To add the responsibility of being armed and in charge of responding to a school emergency is a substantial burden to add, he said.

After speaking to school administrators around the county, Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan agrees that adding SROs is the way to go. But he doesn't want lawmakers in Phoenix deciding how money for SROs in Mohave County should be spent.

"The best way to handle this is to give us (local entities) the money so we can determine its best use," he said. "Local control and oversight is the best way to go."

If the way SRO funding is divided is controlled in Phoenix, it's going to come with restrictions on hours and lawmakers nit-picking ways to save dollars and cents.

"Let us deal with our schools," he said.

In light of the fact that all this talk about funding for the SRO program doesn't necessarily mean there's actually going to be funding for the SRO program, Sheahan is prepared to make a couple of his own proposals to the Mohave County Board of Supervisors.

One of those is focused on putting MCSO substations - similar to the one located at Mount Tipton School in Dolan Springs - at more schools in the unincorporated portions of the county.

"There's never going to be enough money for (an SRO) in every school," he said. The substations are an alternative that could help bolster law enforcement's presence in rural schools, he said.

These issues will be discussed at length at the KUSD security workshop taking place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at 3033 MacDonald Ave.

KUSD Superintendent Roger Jacks said he expects to talk about what the district does now, what it could do to be better and what recommendations people are putting forth.

"The No. 1 thing that ought to be done is add more SROs," Jacks said. But since it's a lengthy process to bolster the program, Jacks knows the district needs to come up with plans that can be put into play as soon as possible.

The district is even considering looking into a company that specializes in making buildings more safe and secure.

"I really want to look into that," Jacks said.

Other topics to be discussed at the meeting include potentially hiring more security guards, giving principals more training for emergency situations and bolstering school safety training for all employees.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2013
Article comment by: How About Firearms Tax

If possible, I think putting a higher tax on firearm sales would be appropriate. According to KDM's, gun and ammunition sales are at one of the all time highs, so the $30 million should be raised in no time.

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