Officials ramp up school safety in wake of Connecticut shooting
By Skip Anderson, For the Williamson Herald
Law enforcement officers joined city and county officials Monday night at a meeting of the Williamson County School Board to announce new security measures in the wake of last week's shooting at a Connecticut school that killed 20 children and six adults.
“We have reviewed the important role our school resource officers play in ensuring safety at our middle and our high school levels, however we realize that we can do more,” said Rogers Anderson, Williamson County mayor. “With that thought in mind, I have asked the staff to prepare a resolution for the [Williamson] County Commission to consider on Jan. 14, to provide funding to hire SROs for each of our county's 23 elementary schools and Middle College High School.”
Anderson said it will cost $1.7 million to hire and train new school resource officers to serve in the county's 23 elementary schools, and to fund the permanent positions through the remainder of the academic year. SROs already serve throughout the school day and during after-school functions of the county's eight middle schools and eight high schools as well as the Hillsboro K-8 school. The funds would be added to the Sheriff's Office budget.
Franklin Mayor Dr. Ken Moore said the increased presence of law enforcement officers would not wait until the new positions can be filled.
“Immediately you will see an increased presence of our police force at our pick-up and drop-off sites, during patrols, and within our schools,” Moore said.
“When evil visits, we are all saddened and shocked by such events as what occurred last Friday,” said Dr. David Snowden, superintendent for the Franklin Special School District. “Now our focus is upon improving existing plans and opportunities to provide additional deterrents in our efforts to keep children, employees, and visitors safe.”
Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long said that in addition to hiring new officers for each school, the public also plays a part in school safety.
“We would ask the public to assist us by reporting any suspicious activity near a school campus,” Long said. “We are going to do everything we can to keep school children safe in Williamson County.”
Williamson County School Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney said he has fielded many phone calls from concerned parents since last week's tragedy in Connecticut, which is the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. The deadliest occurred in 2007 at Virginia Tech when a gunman killed 32 people.
“[The Connecticut shooting] was a game-changer for schools,” Looney said. “We are absolutely and doggedly committed to making sure we get this right.”
The Williamson County School Board approved $40,000 Monday night to hire a security consultant to review the county's safety plans and to recommend ways to increase security within each of the schools. Looney told board members to expect requests for additional expenditures based upon the consultant's recommendations.
“If a nationally recognized expert makes recommendations and we don't act on them, then shame on us,” he said at the school board's work session immediately prior to the monthly school board meeting.
Looney said he plans to “move forward immediately” with hiring a consultant.
Additionally, Williamson County will co-host a statewide school safety summit in January with the Tennessee Department of Education.
“We hope that this gathering will be a chance to connect educators with officials from other state agencies including law enforcement and mental health and allow for helpful coordination and communication,” DOE Commissioner Kevin Huffman wrote in an email Monday afternoon to the states' school directors.
“We will work out the particulars later this week,” Looney said.
Board opposes vouchers, charter schools
The board also voted on two resolutions to oppose matters being considered by the state legislature that could affect Williamson County schools.
“As you know, the Tennessee legislature is likely to take up two topics which these resolutions address,” WCS attorney Bill Squires wrote in a memo to school board members dated Dec. 7. “On several occasions, the board has expressed a desire to create and advance a legislative agenda and to become more involved in the state legislative process. These resolutions are a forward step in fulfilling that goal.”
The 12-member board voted 11-0 to oppose any voucher program in Tennessee that would take public funding for education and send the funding to private schools. Mark Gregory from the 11th District abstained from the vote pending a minor change to the wording that will appear in the final draft of the resolution.
The board voted 12-0 to oppose “any legislation to create a statewide or alternate authorizer for charter schools that would bypass locally elected boards of education and usurp the responsibilities entrusted to them by their constituencies,” as stated in the resolution.
Leve's final meeting
Sixth District School Board Member Terry Leve participated in his final WCSB meeting Monday night. Leve announced this summer his intent to resign his post, but only last week announced his resignation would be effective Dec. 31. The County Commission has until Jan. 30, 2013 to fill Leve's vacated seat.
Posted on: 12/18/2012