Board Urges Tweaks to School Safety Bill
Members of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education say they don't like the idea of using casino money to fund school safety and mental health programs.
The Anne Arundel Board of Education fully supports the idea of more money for security and mental health programs at public schools, but expressed concern about the idea of gambling proceeds being used as a primary funding source.
The Board on Wednesday voted to request an amendment to House Bill 138, a measure sponsored by Del. Nik Kipke (R-Pasadena), which would allow money from the Education Trust Fund to be used for security personnel and equipment, as well as mental health services at schools.
The Education Trust Fund is currently funded by proceeds from the state's casinos.
Board members voted to support the bill only if funds came from the state's general fund, citing concern that gambling revenue could be unstable.
"A lottery fund can go up and down," Board President Andrew Pruski said. "A general fund is static. We need steady funds."
Superintendent Kevin Maxwell also raised a long-held concern that money in the Education Trust Fund might simply supplant funds coming from other sources. While describing the bill as "well-intentioned," Maxwell said he feared that the bill might result in funds being siphoned away from Anne Arundel County.
"I am opposed to the way this is recommended for funding," Maxwell said.
House Bill 138 was introduced not long after shooting in Newtown, CT. In introducing the bill, Kipke said expanding the number of school resource officers and other security would be important even if the shooting had not occurred.
"Expanding that I think is necessary whether or not this horrific incident happened in Connecticut," Kipke said. "We need to give teachers that resource of having an officer who can get involved early before something becomes dangerous."
Anne Arundel Public Schools currently have school resource officers in all 12 high schools and in 9 middle schools, and also partners with the county on the use of a Mobile Crisis Team to address mental health concerns.
Maxwell and Board members noted that the county can already take advantage of local impact grants, which stem from casino money and can be used to address public safety. The County Council on Jan. 7 enacted legislation placing such money into a dedicated, non-lapsing fund.
Local impact grants totaled nearly $15 million statewide in 2012 and are expected to rise as casinos add table games and 24/7 operations.
The Board said it would continue to support money from the impact grants going to school safety in addition to general fund money.
Robert Leib, a special assistant to the county executive, cautioned that a rejection of the bill could ultimately result in no increase in funds at all. He also noted that any adjustment to the general fund could not be made until the budget for fiscal year 2015.
"We want to look everywhere and in every pocket we can," he said.