Ohio schools soon could seek security levy


COLUMBUS — If taxpayers feel strongly enough about boosting security in their public schools, they could vote to tax themselves to pay for it under a bill that overwhelmingly passed the Ohio Senate on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 42 would give school districts the option of putting a property tax levy proposal on the ballot and earmarking the revenue exclusively for the hiring of school guards, physical improvements to buildings, and other security measures.

Just two senators opposed the bill: Shannon Jones (R., Springboro) and and Mike Skindell (D., Lakewood). The entire northwest Ohio delegation supported it. The measure goes to the House.

The bill was introduced at the request of Vermilion School District, which straddles Erie and Lorain counties as well as the districts of Sens. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) and Gayle Manning (R., North Ridgeville).

Mr. Gardner noted state law does not let school districts specify on the ballot that levy funds would go into a specialty fund that could not be spent on anything but school security.

“The people in our community are asking us for the opportunity to make a statement on this and to help their children,” he said. “How do we say no?”

On Dec. 14, a Newtown, Conn., man killed his mother and then used her semiautomatic assault rifle to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He then killed himself.

On Feb. 27, 2012, Ohio experienced its own school shooting. T.J. Lane, 18, was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing three fellow students and injuring two others at Chardon High School near Cleveland.

The attacks have raised questions about what schools can do to protect students and staff — everything from installing security doors to allowing teachers to carry guns.

“The dollars generated by this levy would not be used for anything else,” Ms. Manning said. “We wanted to craft the bill in such a way that even if a school board or superintendent were to leave, the money could not be shifted toward main operating expenses with the new administration. It would have to be used strictly for school safety.”

Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Youngstown) reluctantly voted for the bill. “This is not a solution, and it’s not even close to the solution we need in order to protect our kids adequately …,” he said. “We need to adequately fund the schools so that they can make the decisions of what best fits their school. … If this is the only thing we do, we’re doing a disservice to our school districts.”

Sen. Peggy Lehner (R., Kettering), chairman of a Senate task force examining school security issues, vowed more recommendations for action are coming.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.