By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — Following the signing of the school safety bill earlier in the week, Governor Scott Walker paid a visit to Mound View Elementary.
“This week we signed into law a change that will make it easier for schools to be safe,” said Governor Walker on his visit to Elk Mound March 27.
“Your school is already a safe place … but we want to make it even more safe going forward,” he said.
Governor Walker spoke in Mound View’s library to the school’s fourth graders. Members of the Board of Education, school administrators and local law enforcement, including Dunn County Sheriff Dennis Smith, also were in attendance, along with Representative Rob Summerfield (67th Assembly District).
The governor said he had worked with the state Assembly and the Senate to put together a bill to set aside $100 million right away to help school districts make their buildings safer, whether it is physical changes to the building or adding staff, such as school safety officers.
The $100 million of general purpose revenue will be administered as grants available through the new Office of School Safety in the Department of Justice.
After the governor finished his remarks, members of the local media were allowed to ask a few questions.
The Colfax Messenger wanted to know how the school safety grants would apply to school districts that had been pro-active and had passed referendums and already devoted money to school safety.
The Elk Mound school district passed a $9.3 million referendum nearly 10 years ago, and part of the money was used to move the high school office to the front of the building and to secure the front entrance so that visitors can only enter the school by going through the office.
The Colfax school district passed a $7.2 million referendum in November of 2016, and part of that money also was used to move the high school office to the front of the building and to secure the front entrance.
Regarding those school districts that have been pro-active on school safety, “We are looking at other improvements they want or additions to make, not only for referendums,” Governor Walker said.
“Sadly, in the Milwaukee area, most of those schools probably will be applying and will have massive needs because in the Milwaukee area, for reasons far different than what we experienced in Florida last month, for years, Milwaukee’s high schools, for example, most of them already had metal detectors and secured doors and entrances, not because of a large threat, but because every day they have to deal with issues related to firearms and other weapons,” he said.
“Even though there is $100 million, that equates to about $115 per student for every public school in the state of Wisconsin. Our guess is there will probably be more available for the smaller districts because Milwaukee, and some of the other larger urban areas, already have these things in place,” the governor said.
The Dunn County News wanted to know if grant dollars would be permitted to go toward arming teachers should a district decide that’s what should be done.
“The plan did not include arming teachers. One, the teachers I’ve talked to in the past year, typically we’ve gone into about 80 schools around the state, overwhelmingly they want to focus on teaching. I haven’t heard most teachers say they want to be armed. They want others to be responsible for school safety,” Governor Walker said.
“The other part is just practical. You might have some school districts in the state who have eight, nine, 10 staff members who are willing to take the extensive training. Another school district (next door) might have none,” he said.
“These dollars are for safety measures … so you might have a school safety officer designated so that person could be armed, that’s their job description, as opposed to teachers,” the governor said.
The governor did not elaborate on how school districts would find the money to keep paying for school safety officers in subsequent years after being able to hire someone initially with grant money.
Dunn County has already done a tremendous amount toward school safety, said Sheriff Smith.
“It will be up to those schools to apply for those dollars for whatever they want help with — and we’ll be there to help them,” he said.
“There’s always little things you can tweak. We have a really active Safe Schools Committee. We’ll sit down and talk about it,” he said.
“Our schools have all been reconfigured and redesigned so you can’t just get into the building. But I’ve got a couple of ideas I want to pass by the committee,” Sheriff Smith said.
“From what I’ve heard, the school in Florida, when the students were leaving, they were allowed to leave from a ‘non-front door’ and that’s where (the shooter) got in. I don’t know that for sure. If that’s the case, when they have a fire alarm, they could position a teacher at every door so people cannot come in. Some things like that. I don’t know what all we could do differently, but somebody will come up with a bright idea. Everybody’s got to go home safe at night,” Sheriff Smith said.
“I was very pleased when the governor mentioned it a couple of weeks ago and brought us back into special session to address this issue,” Representative Summerfield said.
“We know this is just a first step. In talking to law enforcement about school districts, we need to keep on looking forward to the future to see what else needs to be addressed. We talked about buildings being revamped. School safety officers. There’s a whole gamut of things. Some school districts are doing some things and some aren’t,” he said.
“That’s what I see as the challenge going forward. What works best. What schools need the resources. We have some older schools that have different logistics. And we have newer schools … Twenty years ago, I graduated before Columbine, you could literally walk out every door. But it’s a different time now, and the goal is to make the schools safe and to let the kids know they are secure,” Representative Summerfield said.
As for the school districts that have already devoted money to school safety, “(the state grant money) should not be picking winners or losers … I’m sure if they apply for a grant, there’s even more they could do. Having the money available for grants, if your school has already done A, B, and C, maybe your school wants to do X, Y, and Z,” he said.
“This is a good step. This was written so it is quite broad. The (grant applications) go to the Department of Justice, and if it’s a good idea, here’s your grant money. In the next budget, if this is successful, hopefully we can find more resources to help schools be more safe,” Representative Summerfield said.
For those school districts that have already addressed school safety, “I’m hoping they won’t be penalized from getting some of the (grant money). Some of the schools are not waiting for someone else to babysit them. They are taking care of themselves. But there’s no reason they should be kept from getting some of those dollars,” Sheriff Smith said.