Texas school districts struggle to meet school safety bill requirements | #schoolsaftey

JARRELL, Texas (KXAN) – After a mass shooting killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, a school district four hours away in Jarrell started the process of getting shatterproof film on the windows of its high school.

The invoice, according to the superintendent, was $50,000. 

Jarrell Middle School campus (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

With the passage of the state’s latest school safety bill, House Bill 3, lawmakers handed districts new requirements to place one armed officer on every school campus and bring campuses up to new safety standards.

But some districts KXAN spoke with are struggling to come up with the money and personnel to comply with the new law by the time it goes into effect Sept. 1.

“Everybody recognizes safety for our children is the number one priority. We all say it — but to prove that, the dollars have to follow,” Jarrell ISD Superintendent Dr. Toni Hicks said. 

The price of safety

The original bill authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, proposed increasing the school safety allotment by $90 per student.  

But, after back and forth with the Senate, lawmakers approved a plan to increase the per-pupil safety funding by 28 cents, meaning under the new law districts would get $10 per student instead of $9.72

The plan also gave districts $15,000 per campus to spend on officers or any other safety enhancements. Some districts received grants from the Texas Education Agency. 

Hicks said, luckily, the district just approved a bond. But she says districts without those funds will have difficulty paying for officers and security upgrades. 

“We put security cameras in every building and on the exterior of the building. We are adding artificial intelligence to those cameras. That’s expensive,” Hicks said. “Other districts who hadn’t done that yet — they are faced with that. Well, just those two expenses certainly exceed that $15,000.” 

Not enough money, not enough people

An hour south of Jarrell, at Hays CISD, the Head of District Safety Jeri Skrocki says she is struggling to find money and personnel to put an officer on each of her 15 elementary campuses currently without a dedicated sheriff’s deputy. 

Head of District Safety Jeri Skrocki (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

The district has an agreement with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office to pay part of the salary and equipment for school resource officers. 

“We had actually funded three positions that we put on last school year. Unfortunately, because of staffing shortages, the sheriff’s office wasn’t allowed or wasn’t able to staff two of those positions for the entire school year,” Skrocki said. 

“So, we had foreseen those holes right after Uvalde,” she continued.

Other school districts in Hays County, like Dripping Springs ISD, are also vying for more school resource officers from the same sheriff’s office to comply with the law. 

The Hays County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to our request for comment. 

“If we can find officers, where and how were we going to pay?” Skrocki asked. “I don’t believe you are going to be able to see a lot of police agencies across the state of Texas be able to promise an officer at every school.”

Since the day of the Robb Elementary shooting, more than 46 school districts began participating in the state’s school marshal program, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. The program trains school employees to protect students from armed intruders. 

More than 50 school districts have applied to create a certified police department since the mass shooting, according to TCOLE. 

Hicks’ district is one of them. 

Jarrell School Board approved a plan to pay for third-party armed security guards on every campus this school year, while the district’s new police chief completes the accreditation process with TCOLE and hires new officers. 

“It costs somewhere around $100,000 per officer just to get them equipped, get them trained, and put them on campus,” Jarrell ISD Police Chief Sharif Mezayek said. “Right now, it is very difficult to find officers. Where are these officers going to come from?”

Superintendent Dr. Toni Hicks and Police Chief Sharif Mezayek (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

Austin Independent School District, which already has its police force, is looking for 70 more officers ahead of the law taking effect. 

Del Valle School Board, in July, approved a $1.1 million plan to hire nine additional officers in a rush to comply. 

During a school board meeting, one Del Valle parent begged the school board to not lower its standard for officers during the hiring process because of the new requirements. 

“Stick to the current level that we have right now. Our standards should not fall,” Efrain Garza said. 

“We need someone who can work in the gray area with kids,” Mazeyek said. “You have to have a person that wants to work with kids and work with the ups and downs that go along with that and not always be so quick to put them in jail.”

The race to September 1

The school safety bill was signed into law in June — leaving the districts with less than three months before the law would become effective. 

The Texas Education Agency provided guidance for districts for the first time in July. 

The law allows for school boards to claim a good cause exemption if the district can’t find the funding or personnel to comply with the law, but the district has to come up with an alternative plan. 

The law doesn’t require districts to submit the claim to the Texas Education Agency, but if requested by TEA — the claim has to be made available. 

Districts could also face state intervention for non-compliance, according to the law. 

Bastrop Independent School District’s Deputy Superintendent said in an email to KXAN that her district will claim a good cause exemption and a multi-year plan for how it will achieve compliance. 

The Texas legislature will come back for a special session focused on education in October, but priorities haven’t been announced and it’s unclear if lawmakers will revisit the school safety legislation.

“I think every one of us in the safety and security department is very apprehensive,” Skrocki said. “We are struggling because we want to do what we are instructed and mandated to do, but we also want to do it right.” 

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