GREENFIELD — Hancock County’s school districts are in the final planning stages for using soon-to-be-released state funding intended to improve school safety.
Three of the county’s four corporations are moving forward with plans to hire additional officers to work in the schools using grant money from the two-year Secured School Safety program, which awards up to $35,000 to districts with fewer than 1,000 students and up to $50,000 for those with more than 1,000 students.
With funding set to be distributed in the coming weeks, school officials say they are prepared to move quickly, some hoping to implement new school safety plans as early as next month.
The Greenfield-Central School Board held a special meeting a week ago to discuss hiring a second resource officer, a measure school officials say will act as a deterrent to potential criminals and provide children with a resource to report problems.
The officer will work in the corporation’s elementary, intermediate and junior high schools. The district already has one officer posted at the high school.
The discussion came just days before a fatal shooting at Purdue University in which a teaching assistant was killed.
Board President Retta Livengood said her son attends classes on Purdue’s Anderson campus, and the news of yet another school shooting hit close to home. It also reinforced the need for extra security measures at all education levels, she said.
“I think just an added presence is good for a lot of reasons, a lot of issues,” Livengood said. “Unfortunately, there are people who make really bad choices out here, but I think having someone who is trained in a building can help, can impact, hopefully in a very positive manner.”
The Mt. Vernon School Board approved hiring an officer earlier this month and submitted its proposal to the state. School administrators say they plan to get the officer into the building as soon as possible.
“It depends on how he or she is trained,” Superintendent Bill Riggs said. “If they are already a (school resource officer), we’ll start them as soon as we can.”
The new resource officer will primarily split time between Mt. Comfort and McCordsville elementary schools. Riggs said the main campus, which includes the high school, middle school and Fortville Elementary, is well-covered by the Fortville Police Department and the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. The county’s D.A.R.E. officer is assigned to Fortville Elementary and has an office there.
School officials decided using the grant money to hire a school resource officer was the best option after holding discussions with local law enforcement and surveying the community on school safety approaches.
A committee has been formed and will make a recommendation for hiring the new school resource officer at the February school board meeting.
Southern Hancock school safety director Steve Satterly said along with the state’s incoming $50,000 check, the district will match the money to put a total of $100,000 toward safety measures.
The plan is to use the money to bump a part-time resource
officer’s shift from a half day to a full day at New Palestine High School and add a full-time resource officer at Doe Creek Middle School.
Satterly said he hopes to have the changes in place by next month.
Eastern Hancock will focus on structural improvements, superintendent Randy Harris said. School officials plan to use the grant to harden access points at all three corporation school buildings.
When improvements are completed there, front office staff will be able to lock the front doors at the elementary, middle and high schools if they are called away, preventing anyone from gaining access to the building through an unattended office.
Additionally, the district will change the locking mechanism on all classroom doors to improve lockdown capabilities in the school, Harris said.
There has been some concern among school officials as to what happens if the grant program is not renewed in two years.
Ostensibly, schools could be left to foot the bill for newly hired resources officers’ salaries.
Satterly said he hopes the state funding becomes permanent in order to keep students and staff safe.
“We like to think that we are always ready, but you can be better prepared, and it would be nice if this is something that stays on the books and becomes a regular thing and isn’t just a knee-jerk political reaction to something that happened,” Satterly said.
Livengood said she expects school officials would seek grant money elsewhere if the state doesn’t chip in to continue to support the resource officers.
“It can only benefit our schools and our kids,” she said. “I don’t see this going away.”
Staff writers Kristy Deer, Joe Hornaday and Jim Mayfield contributed to this story.