The Austin Independent School District in Texas said it will follow a new school safety law by having school resource officers on its campuses, but the officers will have to split time across multiple schools in the district because it is short on police personnel.
Austin ISD Chief of Governmental Relations Jacob Reach explained during the district’s School Safety and Security Committee meeting on Tuesday that the district plans to adhere to a new law aimed at ensuring safety on school campuses by putting police officers at its schools, according to Fox 7.
“We’ve only had about three months since the bill was officially passed to start planning for it,” Reach said.
House Bill 3, which will take effect on September 1, will require every public elementary, middle and high school in Texas to have an armed guard. Austin ISD decided to have a district police officer on each of its 113 campuses instead of using the other options permitted under the new law, which includes arming teachers, school staff, guardians or volunteers.
“We do believe that Austin ISD police officers, with all the specialized training that they’re provided, is going to be what is best for our students and our staff. We don’t want teachers having to worry about do they need to be carrying a weapon on campus,” Reach said.
But the district police department only has 82 officers right now, including 43 school resource officers. It must hire 83 more officers to be in compliance. There will not be enough officers hired by the time the law takes effect next Friday, so officers will have to split time between campuses until more are hired.
The district said the process to check backgrounds and train possible candidates takes about six months until a new officer is ready to serve at one of its schools.
Money is also preventing the district from having enough officers as the state is only giving $15,000 per school and another $10 per student, or $2.5 million, for school safety for the academic year, according to a recent press release from the district. And Austin ISD said the possible new hires would cost it an estimated $8 million per year, plus one-time direct costs.
“We hope that the state will continue to consider the funding needs of districts and how if they’re going to have an important priority like this, that funding also comes along with it,” Reach said.
Reach said the district will come up with the money for this year somehow.
Austin ISD is also working on other elements of the new law, including mental health training, threat assessment, emergency response plans and educating parents on safe gun storage.