Local requests to harden school security outstrip state funds

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By NICK KIPPER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Hundreds of school districts across the state have applied for a school safety grant to reinforce buildings and improve security systems — so many that the funding requested is almost triple what the state is offering.

The Legislature approved $25 million for the Competitive School Safety Grant Program in June. Schools have applied for almost $70 million from the program administered by the State Police, said Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell Township, who had pushed for the funding.

More than 400 schools applied for grants before the Sept. 13 deadline. They are available to public or nonpublic schools, school districts and intermediate school districts that had not received the grants when they were offered in 2015 and 2017.

Officials at Cheboygan Area Schools applied in hopes of updating their security camera equipment and changing the door lock mechanism in  buildings, said Troy Reehl, the superintendent of the district.

If awarded, the district would receive between $450,000 and $480,000 because it agreed to match 25 percent of the grant with district funds or bonds, he said.

Districts not putting up a local match receive fewer state dollars, Reehl said.

The State Police plan to announce which districts receive how much money by the end of October or early November.

This year local officials applied to “harden” their schools with measures such as advanced security systems and by upgrading locks and window protection for school buildings, Hildenbrand said.

Hildenbrand had sponsored legislation that passed in the Senate but stalled in the House which would have awarded $15 million to the school safety grant program. However, the $25 million was secured in the final state budget  signed by the governor.

“We learned obviously that there’s a greater need out there,” Hildenbrand said. “Some school districts are taking it upon themselves to find money within their own budgets or they’re going to their taxpayers locally and asking for security millages.”

The school safety funding awarded to the selected districts this year is a significant increase compared to previous budgets, Hildenbrand said.

“We’ve had programs in the past that were in the 2 to 4 million (dollar) range so we really ramped up the investment and available state resources to make our schools safer for students and teachers,” Hildenbrand said. “I think this investment puts us in a position to do everything we can to prevent a tragedy from happening in Michigan.”

Last February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, brought more public attention to school safety, said Jennifer Smith, the director of government relations at the Michigan Association of School Boards. “But it’s an issue that districts have been aware of for quite some time.

“A lot of districts after Sandy Hook took school safety steps as far as locked entrances and changing the way you enter a school,” Smith said. In December 2012, 20 children and six staff members were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“There’s been increased attention after Parkland and while schools have always been working on safety, the public and Legislature are taking a closer look at it.”

A coalition of school boards, mental health professionals and law enforcement groups have pushed for legislation that would provide a $100 million grant program towards mental health professionals and resource officers in public schools.  

The bill calls for limits on the ratio of students to school counselors to not more than 250 to 1, school psychologists to 700 to 1 and school social workers to 400 to 1.

“It’s not just a reinforced door, it’s having someone the kids can talk to,” Smith said. “It’s having someone to notice a difference in behavior and that’s what we’ve really been pushing for.”