VNL Investigates: Funding school safety

Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 6:01 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - School officials in the Valley say North Dakota schools have some serious problems to solve when it comes to your kids’ safety, and it’s going to take big dollars to pay for them.

As the former long-time Burleigh County Sheriff, Rep. Pat Heinert is no stranger to the security disparity within North Dakota schools. While he emphasizes many have come a long way over the years, he knows there’s still a lot to be done. Heinert says though, he’s confident those deficiencies, specifically in rural and small schools, can be addressed soon.

“We have extra money, there’s no question about that this upcoming session. I think this could qualify as a project or program that we could even touch some Legacy dollars for,” Heinert said.

First, State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler says the best way to understand how much money is needed, is to have each North Dakota school district create a priority list of the work needed to make each school as safe as possible.

“And once we have that data and information, if we’re seeing that there is great disparity in the safety of our schools, then I think that’s evidence-based arguments that our legislators would listen to,” Baesler said.

Legislative leaders say it needs to go one step further. Before an audit can be done, they say a minimum security standard needs to be established by Baesler’s office.

“In my mind, it would be locked doors, an intercom system and video system so you can monitor who’s coming and going. It has to be recorded so law enforcement can come back to that recording later,” Heinert said.

“(Schools) responsible for kids on the bus. So, does that include what security on a bus looks like? Does that include security at athletic events? What does that school audit include? What are the outcomes that we’re looking for?” Senator Kyle Davison said.

With lawmakers set to be back in Bismarck early next year, money wouldn’t go out until at least August. Officials point out schools can pay for security upgrades themselves by raising taxes, but also state it’s a large hurdle to clear and hasn’t been done to date.

“Typically, we’re conservative people in North Dakota when it comes to finances. Typically elected school board members don’t like to raise taxes and they don’t like to dip into their reserves,” Davison said.

Both Heinert and Davison say they’re more than willing to put a school security bill forward in the next session.

“We’re well behind the eight ball in reference to how we get money out to the school, but that doesn’t give us the right not to do anything,” Heinert said. “We need to prove to the parents and the students that we are taking care of them and we are protecting them.”

Both legislature emphasize though, in order to go forward they need to hear from teachers, principals and education groups from across the state as those voices will help ensure work gets done come next session.

To read our first report on what type of security issues are out there, both big and small, click here.

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