The Cost of Safety: School districts make tough decisions to meet safety demands

School districts make tough decisions to meet safety demands. //WSBT 22 Photo.

Balance is something Mishawaka High School Senior Hannah Scott works at every day.

Both balancing on pointe shoes and balancing a busy schedule.

"I've been involved in the National Honor Society, the National Art Honor Society. I was a member of the swim and dive team, and I've been a member of Flint's Dance Studio since like fourth grade," said Scott.

Also on her plate is worrying about being safe at school.

"There's been a lot of fights recently just at school and like just having to be at school sometimes it's not always the safest place, feelings-wise," said Scott.

It's Bruce Faltynski's job to make Hannah feel safe. He's the high school's resource officer.

He monitors the hallways and helps administrators go through security footage.

Ever since the Parkland shooting, Faltynski says he's also investigating more school threats.

Most are not real, but all are taken seriously.

"A lot of the kids, they just don't know how to deal with it," said Faltynski. "When they start hearing about these incidents that are happening in other cities and states, then the one way of kind of dealing with that is maybe making an off-the-cuff comment or joke or posting something without them really understanding what the negative consequences could be towards them or towards any parents that see that or children."

School City of Mishawaka has one officer devoted to the elementary schools, one for the middle school and one for the high school.

All three cost money. The school splits two of the officer's salaries with the Mishawaka Police Department. The third the school pays for completely.

It's money superintendent Dean Speicher never thought he would have to spend when he started his career decades ago.

"It was a different era. It was a different time," said Speicher. "We were more worried at that time about kids chewing gum and about other kinds of issues than we were about weapons coming into the school."

Mishawaka has been spending a lot of money on school safety recently.

The school has already spent $3,453,440.92 on school safety thanks to a referendum passed in 2016.

The most expensive upgrade was changing how you get into the buildings.

More than $1,500,000 was spent on improving school entrances.

All schools now have what is called a secure vestibule that requires visitors to sign in and have their photo ID swiped.

Speicher says the district would not have been able to afford the upgrades without the referendum.

Finding ways to pay for school safety is not just a Mishawaka issue.

At a school forum in Berrien County, administrators shared the same concern.

"The budgets are really strapped," said Niles Board of Education president Dana Daniels.

"It's really hard to keep up with our budgets. Our budgets are really tight," said Lakeshore Public Schools superintendent Phil Freeman." Again we want to get our money into the classroom, but we understand the importance of safety as well."

Last Tuesday, Lakeshore Public Schools tried to pass a bond for the second time. Voters said no.

Without referendums or grants, school safety measures have to be paid for with the same fund used in the classroom.

Meaning learning is often now competing with safety for limited dollars.

"It has caused school systems to change their priorities," said Speicher. "Anytime that we're spending money on school resource officers or on hall monitors, that's money that we can't spend on direct instruction that impacts student learning."

Balancing a budget is one thing Hannah Scott doesn't often think about.

She just wishes for a school day without fear.

"I don't like seeing that change, how it's evolved into something negative. Going to school you want to have that fun time while still learning, but you still want to be able to balance you know having fun with friends and feeling safe in the hallway, but also just having like a regular social experience," said Scott.

During Indiana's special session on May 14, the legislature passed a school safety bill that will provide more money to schools.

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