News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 4, 2013

Vigo officials welcome legislation, funding for more police in schools

TERRE HAUTE — Vigo County School Corp. and local law enforcement officials say they would welcome legislation — and added state funding — that would help put more police officers in schools.

State Sen. Pete Miller of Avon has filed a bill that would provide state grant funds to expand school resource officers to schools that don’t already have them.

It also would offer funding support to schools with existing programs, as long as there is local matching funding.

Vigo officials say cuts in federal funding have hurt efforts to put more police in schools.

Ray Azar, VCSC director of student services, noted that at its peak, the district used to receive about $200,000 each year in federal Safe and Drug Free Schools funding.

The funding was used in part for drug prevention/education and training programs. Part of it also could be used for school safety and security. The district used the funds to hire off-duty deputies who would be assigned to county middle schools, and the deputies also would visit elementary feeder schools.

“They got to know the building, the staff and the kids,” Azar said. “It was not unusual for principals to call the deputies if there was an issue of concern.”

The federal Safe and Drug Free Schools funding kept declining, and it finally stopped.  “We did a lot with that money,” Azar said. When the funding stopped, so did those programs.

While local officials weren’t familiar with details of Miller’s bill, any additional funding provided by the state to put more police in schools “would be helpful,” Azar said.

“School safety has been a major concern for us for a long time,” said Superintendent Dan Tanoos. “We’ve done the best we can with the resources available.”

Any funding that helps put more police in schools “would provide that extra step of security we need,” Tanoos said.

He noted that Det. Sgt. Frank Shahadey currently serves as a school resource officer for the district.

Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing is developing a proposal to add three full-time deputies to post in county middle and elementary schools on a permanent basis. He hopes to present it to the Vigo County Council early this year.

If funded, full-time deputies would be assigned to the Otter Creek, Honey Creek and West Vigo middle school districts, Ewing said, to provide security to those middle schools and the seven elementary schools that feed them.

Reacting to Miller’s proposed legislation, Ewing said, “I think it would absolutely help” in putting more law enforcement in schools.

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

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