State Reps. Katie Dempsey and Eddie Lumsden and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, all of Rome, attended the round table discussion during caucus as well as the board meeting.
Superintendent Jeff McDaniel first brought up the topic of school safety, given the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left six educators and 20 students dead.
“Certainly no one will ever forget the tragic event that took place on Dec. 14 at 9:35 a.m.,” McDaniel said. “No one will ever forget that. It will forever be engrained and those thoughts of confusion and all the emotions that we felt.”
He asked the guests as to whether or not the issue has been a topic buzzing around the capitol, and Dempsey replied that there have been no official meetings about school safety, but it’s in the forefront of legislators’ minds.
“I’ve heard from constituents about what we need to be concerned about,” she said. “Parents, of course … are concerned in general. It runs the whole spectrum from no guns should be allowed in the world to everybody should have a gun.”
She said that in her opinion school safety is predominantly a local issue instead of a state or federal one.
“I know it’s a good time to look at everyone’s safety plans, from small businesses to schools,” she said.
Board members unanimously agreed that the answer is not training and arming teachers and administrators.
“I believe the second amendment right, but I don’t believe guns belong in school,” said Brian Barcomb, adding that it would also present a huge liability as well as opportunities for tragic accidents. “But what I’d like to see is more funding to have more resource officers in the schools without taking money from us in some other areas. There’s always going to be issues out there with gun rights, but we’ve got to start looking at the safety of the kids first.”
Chairman David Johnson said having a resource officer at every school would be “tremendously expensive,” and that currently, one resource officer is responsible for covering the different schools within each of the five districts.
Dempsey said all schools should become increasingly more aggressive when it came to monitoring school visitors, and McDaniel said that by the end of January the school system would host a round table discussion, inviting parents to come and hash out ideas regarding the school safety issue.
He moved onto the topic of the system’s budget and said within the last three years expenditures have decreased by about $7 million.
At the board meeting, McDaniel expanded on that matter during his State of the System address.
He said in 2009 system expenditures were $98,582,214, dropping to $91,526,867 for the current school year with the tax millage unchanged at 18.588 percent.
“Translated it means we’re being good stewards of our money,” McDaniel said. “We’ve all taken on more responsibility with a little bit less of the dollar.”
He asked the guests during caucus whether or not schools could expect relief any time soon or if they should expect more shortfalls in revenue.
“There’s no doubt that education is one of our state’s highest priorities; it always has been and it always will be,” Dempsey said. “We’re just so fortunate also to live in a state where the budget is balanced. I haven’t seen anything specific yet, I know we just have a huge challenge and a lot of unknowns.”
She said she couldn’t give any guarantees, but that come spring, legislators would do what they could for the schools. Dempsey also added that Floyd County Schools has done a remarkable job facing budgetary challenges, making it a model for other school systems in the state.
“You’ve done much with less, and we’ve asked everyone to do that, but I think y’all have done one of the best jobs with it,” she said. “It’s a challenge, but we are watchful.”