COLUMBUS — On the day the shooter in the Chardon High School killings was sentenced to life in prison, a Senate committee voted overwhelmingly to allow schools to ask voters to back up the safety of their children with their wallets.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to send the bill to the full Senate. It would authorize school districts, if they want, to ask voters to approve a property tax levy dedicated exclusively to school security.
“Right now, the law doesn’t allow us to do that,” Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said. “They could put a levy on and they could promise, but they can’t actually put those words on the ballot.”
Vermilion School District, which straddles Erie and Lorain counties, requested the change in law as it ponders a levy to fund both physical improvements and security personnel. Mr. Gardner co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Gayle Manning (R., North Ridgeville).
“They want to make sure that the community would have the confidence that the funds that would be utilized for this would always be used for safety and security and they couldn’t be used for teacher salaries, technology, or any other school general fund purpose,” Mr. Gardner said.
There would be a five-year limit on the life of such a levy. Voters could be asked to renew it.
“Some districts believe that for 1 mill they can provide the kind of dollars that would provide for better safety and security for their children,” Mr. Gardner said.
The vote came shortly after T.J. Lane, 18, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing three fellow students and injuring two more at Chardon near Cleveland on Feb. 27, 2012.
On Dec. 14, a Newtown, Conn., man killed his mother and then used her semi-automatic assault rifle to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He shot himself to death as police closed in.
These incidents and others have fueled debate over what schools can do to secure their buildings. Suggestions have ranged from security entrances, metal detectors, and other physical barriers to hiring security guards or arming teachers and administrators.
It has also reignited federal-level debate over access to certain weapons and ammunition.
The sole negative vote on committee came from Sen. Mike Skindell (D., Lakewood). He said the bill would further exacerbate problems cited by the Ohio Supreme Court when it repeatedly found unconstitutional the state’s reliance on local property taxes to fund schools.
“Again the wealthy districts will have secure schools,” Mr. Skindell said. “The poorer districts will not have secure schools. We as members of the General Assembly have a mandatory obligation to ensure that every child attending a public school in Ohio is safe.”
Senate Bill 42, however, is supported by groups like the Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrations, Ohio Education Association, and Ohio Association of School Business Officials.
OASBA Associate Executive Director Barbara Shaner said she has not heard of any other school district that plans to immediately pursue this.
“It’s a tool,” she said. “Once it’s available, there may be others who will take advantage of it.”
Mr. Kasich’s budget proposal includes $12 million for physical improvements to buildings for safety reasons through the Ohio School Facilities Commission but not for security personnel.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.