At the annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast, newly-elected Gov. Brian Kemp told those attending the Georgia chamber of Commerce event his plan to give every public school in the state $30,000 for school security.
What security upgrades will be made will be left up to the local systems, the report put out by the Associated Press said. Floyd County Schools Superintendent Jeff Wilson and Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars both weighed in on what their systems could potentially do with that money if it is approved by the Georgia General Assembly.
“Our first deal for safety is to get resource officers for each school,” Wilson said for Floyd County Schools. “If it does happen, I promise it will go to good use.”
He said having more of those resource officers would make it more difficult for someone to engage the schools. The Floyd County School board would have to talk about preferences, but Wilson said he would like to see as many resource officers in the schools as possible. There will also be upgrades made as needed, he added.
Byars said how Rome City Schools will use the funds depends entirely on how the state appropriates the money. According to Byars, RCS does receive some money marked for school security already, and the system uses it for upgrades or other security-related items. For example, the schools recently updated their security cameras using their security funds he said. Regardless, Rome City Schools will be looking to continually add to their security next year he said.
Another issue discussed with the two superintendents was the piece of legislature submitted by Sen. John Albers, R-Sandy Springs, which would allow for schools to pull funds from ELOST to be “allocated towards the security of schools, including additional staffing, such as specialized mental health counselors.”
“Some districts need that, but I think there are inherent problems with using those funds for mental health,” said Byars. “I would try to not use ELOST funds for that.”
Byars said the issue is becoming too dependent on ELOST to fund those programs and those programs would go away if there are not enough funds from ELOST to cover the counselors or school security. An alternative, however, would be to fund the counselors through a categorical grant, he said. Rome City Schools uses two categorical grants from the state which goes towards paying school nurses and transportation. It would be a better way for the state to help, Byars said.
Wilson said there is a huge need for these counselors; however he is very hesitant about taking that money from ELOST because those funds (in ELOST) are set aside for construction and upkeep. The schools “cannot operate without it,” he said. Floyd County Schools have already committed ELOST funds for the next 5 years, hiring a counselor out of that fund would cut into projects Wilson said. There is a tremendous need for these counselors, he added, guidance counselors and social workers are overwhelmed.
“I hope we as a state can come up with a better mental health plan — not just for the schools — but for the whole state,” he said. “(There’s) real need for those services throughout the state.”
The 2019 Session Joint Budget Hearings for 2019 are scheduled to begin Jan. 22, according to Georgia General Assembly documents. All legislation and plans announced by Governor Kemp are not yet finalized and must be passed by the Georgia General Assembly before they can become official.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.