News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 12, 2013

School board OKs funding for increased security

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County School Board has unanimously approved a plan — and funding — to provide greater security to schools in the wake of the December tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

The board action on Monday night is a major step toward the goal of having an armed law enforcement officer in each school, both city and county.

The School Board approved annual expenditures of about $311,000 for the district’s share of the costs — $135,000 to fund special deputies in rural, county schools, and $176,000 to ensure each city school has a full-time police officer.

In each case, the school district is paying half of the cost.

The Terre Haute City Police Department, which already has its funding in place, can now move forward with its plan, while a separate plan proposed by Sheriff Greg Ewing still needs County Council approval.

“You can’t put a pricetag on the safety and security of children and staff,” said Superintendent Dan Tanoos.

“This is the right thing to do,” said School Board President Paul Lockhart.

The district has a healthy, 16-percent general fund cash balance, Tanoos has said. Another source of funding involves agreements with private companies that are providing revenue to the

district.

Both Ewing and Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse addressed the School Board.

This year, the city police department share of the costs will come from a seized asset fund, which will not require City Council approval. In future years, funding for the school officers will have to be incorporated into the city police department budget.

Plasse said he will use active, off-duty police officers, and he anticipates two four-hour shifts per school.

Officers will be at the school all day, starting at about 7:20 a.m. They will not leave until the end of the day or beyond.

When dealing with an active shooter, “seconds count,” Plasse told the School Board. “I feel an officer at that school, to deter a attack or confront it head on, is the best plan to keep our students safe,” he said.

Plasse hopes to have officers in the city schools no later than April 1.

Squad cars, uniforms and guns will be provided by the city and county, respectively, Tanoos said. He anticipated the school district’s liability insurance will go up slightly. Officers will be paid on an hourly basis.

In the county, Ewing’s plan would put special deputies in 10 rural, county schools. He anticipates using several retired law enforcement officers, who have previously received training at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.

“We have to be proactive,” Ewing said. “We have to slow down that active shooter and speed up the police.” The best way to do that is to put police in the schools, he said.

“Let that person who wants to do harm to our children battle it out with that police officer, not our 6-year-olds,” Ewing said.

Board member Tammy Pearson asked what would happen if one of the safety officers calls in sick. Ewing said “there will always be coverage.” He has reserve deputies he can use, and if necessary — he’ll go to a school himself, he said.

Now that the school district has approved its share of the funding for the 10 special deputies, the next step is for the Vigo County Council to act on providing its share — $135,000 — during a meeting March 12.

During a public comment period Monday, several principals and some parents praised the district and law enforcement for their efforts to keep schools safe.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.