AUSTIN, Texas — Students across Texas will soon return to school. And this year, they could see a new face on campus: a security guard.
“We’ll have one on each of our elementary and middle school campuses,” said Dr. Jeff Arnett, who’s the superintendent of Eanes ISD in the Austin area. “And we’ll have two at the high school and then the chief. So that will total 11.”
Eanes ISD has nine campuses and just over 7,500 students. Dr. Arnett said the district has partnered with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) to provide school resource officers at Westlake High School. But having guards at elementary and middle schools will be new this year.
Eanes ISD is creating its own police department. In time, Dr. Arnett explained the school will discontinue its partnership with TCSO so that all of the officers will be part of the district’s security team.
“We have our own security force that will be ready for the first day of school, and then eventually we’ll be commissioned as an official police department,” Dr. Arnett said. “These are people who will know how to act instinctively, and will be able to make that immediate shift, should they be confronted with a critical incident on the campus.”
Eanes ISD will be in compliance with a new law going into effect in September that says school districts must have an armed guard on every campus.
“If we’re able to supply that additional armed force and response, we all hope it will act as a deterrent, and not just as a reaction to a threat,” said Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, who co-authored the bill.
The sweeping school security bill, which received bipartisan support, was a legislative response to the Uvalde massacre, in which a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school. There was no security guard specifically assigned to that campus at the time of the shooting.
“Moments, seconds matter in a tragedy like that,” said Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who was an author of the legislation. “It’s not lost on me that having anyone stand in the way, having anyone hinder that attacker in that instance, could have saved lives that day.”
Rep. Moody said this legislation can help ensure students “feel as safe as possible” at school.
“We have to put things in place, and people in place, that have the proper training and expertise that could potentially slow down or hinder someone who seeks to do harm,” Rep. Moody said. “And it’s not something that I took lightly. It’s not something that I look at in any way other than a parent of young children. It’s a complicated situation.”
Rep. Moody and other Democrats have been pushing for stricter gun legislation, such as raising the age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21. That bill was a priority bill for the Uvalde families, but it did not go anywhere.
“One of the largest failures that we had in this last session is we did nothing, absolutely nothing, to restrict people that shouldn’t have access to high-powered firearms [from] having that access. And that is a large gaping hole in our policy right now in Texas,” Rep. Moody said. “That is what I think a lot of parents across the state want to see. I know it’s what I want to see and what I’ve continued to fight for in the Legislature.”
The school security bill that did pass allocates a little more than $15,000 per campus for security. If a district cannot comply, the law says there must be a good exception with an alternative plan.
“It’s essentially an unfunded mandate, because the money that we’ll get from the state comes nowhere close to covering this expense,” Dr. Arnett said. “Prior to these conversations, our annual cost for providing security at the high school, as well as just maintaining security throughout the school district, was approximately $900,000 a year. Now, with adding an officer on each of our campuses, that total cost will be approximately $1.6 million, a little bit more than that, each year. So when you keep in mind that with the recent legislation, and now the new law, the state will give us $15,000 per campus, plus a few more cents on the per-student security allotment, that’s going to still total less than $150,000. Our annual costs are going to increase by about $750,000 a year.”
Reps. Moody and Clardy both say they’d be willing to provide districts with more security funding in the future.
“HB 3 also has a component where we deal with mental health, and provide those resources to identify kids that are having mental issues or ideations, whether suicidal or homicidal, and try to intervene and act before we have another tragedy like Uvalde. So we’re trying to focus on the whole spectrum of the issue and how best to deal with this,” said Rep. Clardy. “I think HB 3 is a good piece of legislation. I doubt that it’s perfect, because that’s not what we do. We have to come back and learn. So if we need to come back and focus on providing additional resources and money to those school districts, we will do that. If we need to fine tune how we provide mental health services and counseling, we’ll do that. But I think this was a big step in the right direction.”
Eanes ISD is hiring ex-police officers to guard its campuses.
“It’s much more cost effective to maintain our own police department,” he said. “The contract that we have with Travis County Sheriff’s Office to provide those officers their equipment and their vehicles… that’s a very expensive proposition. So our Board of Trustees is looking at the costs of that arrangement and having two officers at the high school versus the additional cost and the ultimate value of having dedicated officers on all of our campuses. Yes, it’s more money, but it is also more economical.”
Dr. Arnett said the Board decided to pull money from the district’s fund balance to pay for the law enforcement.
“We don’t look at it as an expense as much as we look at it as an investment. We’re investing in the safety of our students and our staff,” Dr. Arnett said. “This is what our community has told us that they need in order to feel like their children are in a safe place every day. So we have to be responsive to our community. And if that costs us more money to do that, then in this case, we feel like it’s worth it.”
http://www.spectrumlocalnews.com/tx/austin/politics/2023/08/02/eanes-isd-ready-for-school-year-with-new-security-force Eanes ISD ready for school year with new security force