The decision to improve school safety measures in Henderson County has met with little opposition in light of the most recent school shooting, but those measures will come with a price tag as budget season approaches.
The Henderson County School Board held a budget workshop Monday night. Members drew up their annual wish list to present to the Board of Commissioners next month for their local budget request – the district’s second-largest source of funding behind state dollars.
But this year’s request will be different. In addition to asking for funding for teachers, programs and facility needs, board memebrs will ask for school recourse deputies, surveillance cameras and security upgrades – potentially adding millions to the $27.1 million they received last year.
Superintendent Bo Caldwell showed the board two slides during the workshop. The first included a list of educational program priorities before Feb. 14 – the day of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
It was roughly $1 million, the bulk of which was for additional Advanced Placement and Spanish teachers, as well as personalized learning programs for math and English/language arts. Another $400,000 was planned to align with locally funded non-teaching positions with state salary schedules and to make pay more competitive.
The second slide was a list of new priority budget considerations after Feb. 14 — $1 million to hire 12 more school resource deputies so every school can have one; $1.4 million for social workers and mental health support at every school; and $1 million to install cameras at every school.
Another $750,000 million is planned to fund safety enhancements to reduce entry points. For newer schools like Mills River Elementary, the enhancements will be relatively cheap, but for older facilities and open high school campuses, it will require the building of walls and other improvements to funnel visitors.
Those figures were presented as considerations, not requests, however, and relfect what it would theoretically cost to cover safety measures at each school equally.
In addition, Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services John Bryant laid out next year’s $1 million in anticipated capital projects. The bulk of the money, about $860,000, will be spent on scheduled building repairs, equipment and paving projects for schools throughout the district.
But the top two priority items were to fund two studies, including $120,000 for professional in-depth analysis of the capital needs for every school in the district. Another $20,000 would be requested for a professional safety analysis detailing recommendations for facility improvements and current practices for each school in the district.
At the end of the workshop, administrators presented a plan to ask for a county appropriation of $29.6 million, about $25.5 million of that in continuation budget.
But this plan slices more than half the educational requests. On the student safety side, it only funds the school resource deputies and facility enhancements, not cameras or social workers.
But board members weren’t happy with slicing educational needs in favor of student safety. They wanted both sides of the coin funded.
“Those things are necessary,” said Board Member Mary Louise Corn, referring to school safety needs. “And they’ve been necessary for a long time. This very tragic event has just made us say it out loud with enthusiasm and determination, not let somebody put us off because ‘oh, the school system is causing us to get a tax increase.’ A lot of this stuff can be a one-time expenditure, which is not recurring, and be used with money that is presently available.”
Board Member Colby Coren questioned why the school resource deputies were included as part of the school system’s budget, rather than the Sheriff’s Office budget. It was also pointed out that the three school resource officers the city of Hendersonville plans to hire aren’t included in the school system’s budget.
That sentiment was backed by most of the board. In fact, they wanted all school safety request compiled in a separate list for the county aside from the rest of the school system’s needs.
Board Member Blair Craven asked for more time to figure out what exactly the school system needs from mental health and social workers. What would be their responsibilities? Would they be licensed therapists?
“Since Feb. 14, this has all come on the radar and I don’t want to get into a place where we’re throwing too much money at it and kind of think it out,” he said.
Another hot topic was the Stillwell Building at Hendersonville High. The county plans to designate $1 million next year for the school system to continue preservation of the building.
Caldwell suggested using that money instead on immediate needs like school safety if the county promises to fund Stillwell renovations at a later time once the school system determines a use for the building.
“It’s not that we don’t want the money to go to Stillwell,” said Caldwell. “But why let that million sit there and not be used when we need it right now for school safety?"
Board members agreed with the idea, but some also feared that Stillwell would never see that money if it was put off.
The board still has a lot of work to do before nailing down a final number. Another workshop will be held Monday, with a vote on the final request coming at a later meeting.