APPLETON – The Wisconsin Department of Justice is fighting to get state dollars to continue funding its efforts to keep schools across the state safe and prepared for emergency situations.
At a press conference Tuesday, Trish Kilpin, director of the Office of School Safety, addressed members of the media in an effort to reverse the decision to not provide funding in the budget. She was joined by Mike Altekruse, mental health coordinator for the Neenah Joint School District and school resources officers from across the state.
The Joint Finance Committee made the decision not to provide funding last Thursday.
The OSS provides free training and resources to respond and prevent critical incidents at Wisconsin public, private and tribal schools.
“We’re worried that without the continuity of funds to provide those services to our schools, schools will have piecemeal programs, and they will not have that consistency and our kids will be less safe,” Kilpin said.
Kilpin said she wasn’t given a reason for not funding the OSS after what she considered productive conversations with members of the Legislature that seemed to have bipartisan support.
“We were very stunned and shocked that we did not get the funding we need,” she said.
Here’s what you need to know about the office:
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What is the Office of School Safety?
The OSS was created in 2018 in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, Kilpin said.
It operates programs such as Speak Up, Speak Out, a 24/7 statewide reporting system free to all Wisconsin schools.
The office also trained 12 critical incident response teams across the state. They are trained to reduce psychological impact, stabilize the community and identify individuals who may need long-term support after a critical incident at a school.
How much money does OSS need to continue operating?
Kilpin said OSS will need $2 million over two years to continue operating. Those dollars will fund just over 14 positions, including 10 to staff Speak Up, Speak Out.
What will happen if OSS doesn’t get the funding it needs?
The OSS is currently funded by pandemic relief dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act. That support will end in December.
Without funding in the state budget, OSS will have to cease operations when the ARPA money runs out. That means the free statewide tip hotline will disappear, as well as any other training the office does in critical incident response.
How much do people use services such as Speak Up, Speak Out?
According to the 2021-22 annual report for Speak Up, Speak Out, more than a quarter of the nearly 2,000 tips were about bullying. There were also tips about suicide threats, drugs, and guns and weapons.
In the last year, 63 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties received at least one tip through the hotline.
Since its inception in September 2020, more than 1,700 schools and law enforcement agencies have received at least one tip.
Many districts encourage students to use the tipline to report concerns. Officers are around during the day, but Speak Up/Speak Out allows students to send in tips after hours, said Chris Kristalidis, a school resource officer for the Muskego-Norway School District.
“Without SUSO, we will see a downfall in reporting,” he said at Tusday’s press conference.
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Reach AnnMarie Hilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 920-370-8045. Follow her on Twitter at @hilton_annmarie.