A Mesa senator and public safety officials hope a plan to add school resources officers and mental health assessment and counseling will make its way to the ballot for approval.
Sen. Rich Crandall (R-Mesa), along with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) President Kevin Quinn, proposed the more than $30 million plan Wednesday. It would provide nearly 300 more school resource officers on Arizona campuses, fund $4.5 million to improve mental health assessment and give $1.5 million to expand school guidance counseling. To fund the endeavor, the plan proposes using excess clean elections funding, a tax on alcohol sales or a fee to private party auto sales. Any of those ideas would require a ballot initiative.
Discussions of school safety nationwide have elevated since the school shooting last month in Newtown, Conn. Proposals have included arming school teachers or administrators, placing armed officers on campuses – such as school resource officers, and volunteer posses. In fact, Mesa Unified School District announced last week it is reassessing safety measures on all its campuses and examining procedures.
In a press release, Crandall said, “Our proposal works. 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.”
Some East Valley schools use a state “safe schools” grant now to fund school resource officers. The Mesa district receives $729,115 from the state, according to district spokeswoman Helen Hollands. Through those funds, the city’s police department assigns one full-time school resource officer to Dobson, Mesa, Mountain View, Red Mountain, and Skyline high schools. The grant also pays for three more full-time officers who split their time between six junior high schools.
The city then uses another grant to fund a full-time officer at Westwood High School and a full-time officer who splits time between two more junior high schools.
The district’s maintenance and operations fund plays for other officers to be at other schools as needed, Hollands said.
The Gilbert Unified Schools District uses similar funding mechanisms to provide full-time school resource officers at each of its high schools, spokeswoman Dianne Bowers said. The junior high schools in Gilbert have a shared school resource officer. The city of Mesa provides an officer to a junior high school in its jurisdiction, who also provides backup as needed.
School resource officers are used throughout the country. They perform more than safety coverage, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers.
“We should not have a regular Police Officer or Deputy in schools to provide security, yet the officer should be a school resource officer (SRO). SRO’s are carefully selected officers who are trained to teach classes, mentor students, building positive relationships with students and staff and are one of the best defenses against an active shooter in a school,” NASRO President Kevin Quinn said in a release.
Babeu said in a release that he supports the idea to place more school resource officers on campuses, but also wants to see Arizona law changed to allowed designated administrators or teachers to be armed when an SRO is not at a school.
Right now Arizona’s Gun-Free School Zone Act a school zone as the area “in, or on the grounds of... or within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of a public, parochial or private [elementary or secondary] school.”
“We need to amend Arizona laws for Gun-Free School Zones, to allow schools without SRO’s to designate certain school administrators and designated teachers to be armed to initially defend against any violent attack on their school. Law enforcement will provide annual training and qualification for these designated school staff. I don’t want to arm a couple of teachers in every school, but what is the alternative? We need a permanent funding source, since the general fund may be eliminated, yet the threat to our schools remains,” he said.
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