FLOYD COUNTY — Looking around her school, Floyd Central High School junior Shari Rowe can see students who may need additional mental health services.
“I see a lot of people who would benefit,” Rowe said.
Her school district, New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., just approved a measure that will put a question on the May primary ballot, asking voters to approve an 8.5 cents per $100 assessed value tax increase over the course of eight years to pay for additional security measures. If approved, the School Safety Referendum, as it is called, is slated to bring in approximately $3.1 million a year, with 70% of the funds dedicated to mental health services and 30% set aside for physical building improvements, such as better doors, night-vision cameras and even additional school resource officers.
Just one day following the board’s unanimous approval of the measure, the district hosted a press conference at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, in New Albany, to discuss the need for the additional money.
Superintendent Brad Snyder said the state isn’t giving school districts enough money to fund additional security measures.
“The bottom line is this. If a community wants additional measures to reach safety for staff and students they can,” Snyder said. “The costs must remain the local responsibility.”
He said safety is an issue faced every day.
“Schools receive more and more students affected by trauma. Students often do not have the resources to form rational judgments, develop supportive relationships or seek guidance on how to cope with traumatic events. So many of our students act out or act on impulse by using readily available technology to express themselves … without deliberation regarding consequences,” Snyder said. “Social media, cell phones and the internet have become easy weapons of terror. School officials encounter this situation every day.”
Misty Ronau is head of the political action committee tasked with trying to get people to vote yes on the safety referendum.
“A school shooting. Those words are something that we as a nation have seemingly become desensitized to. Can you imagine? It happened two hours away from our homes here to children in Indiana, in a public school,” Ronau said, referencing a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School, where the gunman was a 13-year-old student. “Voters need to understand that every day our schools have to be prepared to have a cohesive and complex safety plan in place to respond to the most horrific scenarios imaginable.”
Ronau said legislators gave schools the option of the safety referendum as a way to pay for improvements.
“The state has handed our schools this tool, our school safety referendum, as a way of seeking funding through communities to enhance the safety of our schools and providing desperately needed services,” Ronau said. “What we know is that happy, healthy, whole children do not commit acts, heinous acts, of violence or pose a threat to themselves or others.
“A yes vote to this school safety referendum will provide the absolutely necessary resources to intervene and prevent children in crisis from acting out and by this way, this referendum will allow us as a community to be proactive and prevent tragedy.”
Supporters of the referendum filled the room, including Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop, who said he wrote the grant to pay for the first school resource officer in Floyd County, in 1999.
“Although I may not agree with the total plan, I agree with majority of it,” Loop said. “I think that what people need to realize in Floyd County is the reason that people want to live here to begin with is because … we’re a bedroom community with great schools. And so, we don’t want to let a few hundred dollars here and there determine, OK, we’re no longer the great school system.”
He said if one looks back at history, all school shooters have needed mental health services — services that NAFC is proposing implementing.
“If we can identify those people and have the resources for them, then maybe we can prevent that altogether,” Loop said. “And that’s what we really want to do.”
Ronau said the plan now is to get out into the community and talk to voters about what the referendum is and what it will fund. She urged others to call friends and family to spread the word.
“I think it’s also great for the community, too, because we can kind of come together and help make a change in a way that’s really, really needed in this day and age,” said 16-year-old Cara Akin, FCHS student. “There’s a lot of unfortunate things that happen in schools … if we can put a stop to it now, before it becomes something that’s really, really a problem, we can make a difference.”