By JEROD CLAPP
CLARKSVILLE — The state attorney general said he hopes to see more funding and a broader scope of use in a bill that would help schools get resource officers during a press conference at Clarksville Middle School on Thursday.
Greg Zoeller, Indiana attorney general, had the conference at the school to congratulate the district and the Clarksville Police Department for beginning their school resource officer program and talk about Senate Bill 1, which would establish a fund for districts and charter schools to apply for grants through to help pay for school resource officers. But districts in Southern Indiana have shown mixed interest because they’re not sure whether the funds are one-time monies or recurring, especially because of already mounting budget concerns for some school corporations.
“That has been one of the concerns and it’s a concern even in the bill we originally sponsored ...” Zoeller said. “I think that’s been understood as a problem and my guess is particularly the leadership in the [state] Senate is focused on how to have a recurring funding stream.”
The introduced version of the bill puts $10 million into a state safe schools fund, which could give districts 50 percent of the cost of school resource officer programs, capped at $50,000.
Zoeller said the uncertainty of whether districts will continue to receive money for resource officers is understandable.
“Nobody wants to hire a full-time person without knowing a funding stream that carries forward,” Zoeller said. “So it’s a question that everybody’s focused on ... how the Senate and House decide to address that need is left for later.”
Zoeller said since the bill is still new, there’s opportunity to amend it in a several different ways and it may get additional funding from federal sources.
“I think it’s been the subject of a lot of attention from other kinds of interests,” Zoeller said. “So what’s likely to happen will be to have a much more expanded overall school safety, rather than just a school resource officer.”
He said legislators may amend the bill to qualify the purchase of safety equipment, such as cameras or buzz-in systems, in grant applications. He said he doesn’t want to provide constrains on what districts need, but give municipalities, police agencies and schools the ability to execute their needs with the grants.
He said the importance of the bill was stressed with the bill was renumbered from SB 270 to SB 1, which makes it the first bill the Senate will consider.
The last day for the legislature to consider bills comes in mid-April, but the bill has several other hurdles to reach before it comes to a vote.
New resource officer
Zoeller commended Clarksville Community Schools and the town for working together on getting a resource officer for its three schools.
Michael Popplewell, an officer with the Clarksville Police Department, was approved by the town and the district as the resource officer. After about a year of discussions, district board President Bill Wilson said he was glad to see the program become a reality.
“You cannot have the educational environment necessary unless you have safety first,” Wilson said. “This program provides that and we’re just very pleased.”
Money remained an issue in the discussion up until passage, when the district and town had to hammer out questions about payment schedules and indemnification.
Chief Mark Palmer, CPD chief, said he was glad the town and the school corporation were able to come to an agreement and get the program started.
Popplewell said aside from protecting students, he hopes he can give them a positive view of police officers.
“I’m so glad that everybody in our town has gotten together and made this program possible,” Popplewell said. “I think it’s essential that the students of Clarksville Community Schools and all schools develop a relationship with a police officer as a role model to look up to.”