Preventing school gun violence: Lawmakers have plenty of ideas

2013-02-21T00:00:00Z Preventing school gun violence: Lawmakers have plenty of ideasBethany Barnes Arizona-sonora News Service Arizona Daily Star
February 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Arizona lawmakers agree they want no more gun violence in schools, but agreeing on what to do to ensure that is trickier.

Attorney General Tom Horne and Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, are pushing a plan to let principals, teachers and janitors at public schools keep guns in on-site lockboxes after 24 hours of training. The bill is awaiting a hearing.

That is just one of many proposals now being discussed.

Here's a roundup of some of the other plans so far.

THE GOVERNOR'S APPROACH

Gov. Jan Brewer's plan seeks $3.6 million for the Department of Education's school resource officer program. That would bring the program's total funding to $11.4 million, down from its peak of $15.5 million in 2001.

Brewer's plan would add about 80 officers to the current 104, the Department of Education says. That's far fewer than the amount needed to provide armed guards at each of Arizona's more than 1,700 schools. To accomplish that, however, would require school districts to put up a matching $3.6 million, which becomes another financial hurdle.

John Huppenthal, the state superintendent of public instruction, said Brewer's plan doesn't cut it. It's "woefully inadequate," he wrote in an email. Such scant funding, he wrote, would make it "impossible to fairly determine the few that would be best served by a resource officer."

SEN. CRANDALL'S FUNDING PLAN

Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, has proposed a bill that would take excess Citizens Clean Elections Commission money and spend it on school resource officers and counselors.

Right now, the leftovers go to the general fund. That added up to $10 million in 2011 and $20 million in 2010.

It's not a quick fix. To cover the cost, Crandall proposes reinstating a $5 Clean Elections tax credit on state income tax forms, which was dropped last year. That means schools wouldn't be able to cash in until 2015.

Another Republican alternative

Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, wants to improve the school resource officer program by changing the funding to a grant program, where the state puts in a third, the municipality puts in a third and the school district puts in a third. He is also planning to work with the grant program to adjust the criteria for determining which schools will get a school resource officer.

Orr was going to put the plan in bill form, but he said he was advised by the speaker to work directly with the grant program.

Keeping it out of legislation allows more flexibility, Orr said, noting that if a school couldn't manage a third of the cost, the grant program could be flexible and adjust funding as needed.

REP. CHAD CAMPBELL'S PROPOSAL:

Campbell, D-Phoenix, has the plan that promises the most but faces the greatest odds.

He thinks a lot of things need to come together in order to protect schools.

His proposal asks for more school resource officers, doubles the number of counselors, requires and pays for schools to do a threat assessment and creates a safety fund that would allow schools to get cash for their individual safety needs.

The chances of Campbell's bill moving forward look slim. It took three weeks for it to be assigned to a committee. It's also double-assigned, making it less likely it will move onward.

The price tag? A total of $160 million to take school safety through fiscal year 2016. It would require $58 million out of this year's budget.

Getting money for school safety could be a "real challenge," said Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Sahuarita, because of the state's transition to Common Core Standards, the new curriculum Arizona is adopting along with 46 other states. It's a move that will require significant technology upgrades and training to make it work. Brewer anticipates the switch costing $61.5 million.

A good first step would be just to hire more school counselors, said Angela Robinson, president of the Arizona School Counselors Association. She said she supports the school resource officer program 100 percent, but she said that adding more is just putting a bandage on the problem. Student-to-counselor ratios have to improve, she said.

Arizona is among the lowest ranked states on the counselor-to-student ratio.

In the 2010-11 school year, there were 861 students to every one counselor, the American School Counselor Association said. The association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1.

Campbell's plan won't achieve that ratio, however.

"We can't get it to that ratio right now," he said. "There is no way financially. We are just so far behind."

Robinson has a vested interest in school safety not just because of her experience as a counselor but because her father, Dorwan Stoddard, was killed and her mother was shot three times during the Jan. 8, 2011, Tucson shooting that severely wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Robinson said she wonders about shooter Jared Lee Loughner. "Why didn't this kid get help?"

School counselors can spot kids who need help, she said.

"We are the pulse of the school," Robinson said. "Your school counselor knows every student in the school."

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