HANCOCK COUNTY — After Indiana lawmakers cut the state budget for school safety grants by 65 percent in early spring, Gov. Mike Pence recently announced plans to restore some of the funding — a change in direction being applauded by local educators.
In a statement released Friday by his administration, Pence, who initially suggested the cut in funding to legislators, cited growing concern about school safety, sparked by the recent shooting at an Oregon college that left 10 dead, as a factor in his decision to add $3.5 million back into the program. The release did not state where the money would come from.
Combined with unspent money for safety grants left from the previous state budget, that brings the total for school safety for the fiscal year to more than $9 million, about the same amount that’s been spent the past two years. The original budget provided $7 million during a two-year spending cycle.
After the initial announcement of the cut, several officials from Hancock County public schools feared the decrease would force them to pick and choose which safety measures to invest in. The additional money has eased some of those concerns, they said. Districts are permitted to use safety grants for a variety of expenses, from alarm and surveillance systems to the salaries for school safety officers.
Dave Pfaff, principal at Eastern Hancock High School and Middle School, said the cuts left him uncertain about whether the district would have access to the funds it was counting on to pay half the salary of its school safety officer, a licensed law enforcement officer who patrols school property. Pence’s announcement was welcome news, he said.
Steve Satterly, safety director for Southern Hancock School Corp., said he, too, was uneasy about the decisions he and other district officials might have needed to make if the grant funds weren’t replenished.
Southern Hancock invested the money it was granted from previous funds to improve its security systems, which included the addition of surveillance cameras to the district’s elementary schools and heightened security measures near all buildings’ front entrances, he said.
Had Pence not reversed course on funding, Satterly said, it would have left him no choice but to reduce the number of hours the district employs its safety officers.
Satterly said that, though he’s confident the district’s buildings are secure, the peace of mind a safety officer provides to both school employees and students is immeasurable.
“Our (safety officers) are there to serve a security function but also to act as informal counselors for our students,” he said.
Gary Stanley, a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy who works for Southern Hancock schools when he’s off duty, said he interacts with students as much as possible, serving not only as a deterrent to crime but a role model to students he hopes will bring him their concerns.
“I try to make sure everyone is comfortable with law enforcement,” Stanley said. “We try to show them that we’re approachable.”
District officials applied for the school safety grants last month and will hear in the coming weeks whether they were approved, Satterly said.