With upward of $700,000 in new funding allocated for school safety improvements, the Hall County Board of Education on Monday, June 25, voted 4-1 to approve a $282 million general fund budget for the 2019 fiscal year.
The board set the tax rate at 18.20 mills, a drop from 18.50 mills, but still a tax increase under state law when accounting for increases in revenue from property tax reassessments. The full rollback rate this year is 17.243 mills.
Board member Brian Sloan cast the lone dissent, saying he wanted additional funding for school safety, specifically to hire additional resource officers to patrol campuses throughout Hall.
The vote came after a civil but spirited exchange of opinions between Frank Lock, former chairman of the Hall County Democrats, board members and Superintendent Will Schofield.
Lock said he supported the large increase in new spending to support school safety upgrades, from personnel to new alarms and monitoring equipment.
The state is chipping in about $240,000 for the school district to improve security of its facilities.
“No one in their right mind would ever say that’s wrong,” Lock said.
But, he argued, the school district was merely working to address the symptoms and not the cause of school shootings that have rocked the nation this year.
Lock said he thinks the cause is the easy access to and availability of firearms.
“It’s a sick society …” Schofield said, but added that he isn’t convinced guns are the true culprit.
Schofield said there needs to be a national conversation on the causes of school shootings and that it’s important to draw connections for those students who “don’t fit in.”
Earlier this month, Hall County school resource officers, teachers, staff and administrators participated in an educational workshop hosted by the National Association of School Resource Officers, an Alabama-based nonprofit that advocates and teaches practices in school-based policing.
Working with the nonprofit National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, NASRO has developed and released a new curriculum focused on helping educators and law enforcement better understand, identify and respond to students with mental illness and behavioral problems.
Board member Bill Thompson said it’s important to show the public that the school district is doing “everything we can to keep (students) safe” and that means more funding for school safety.
Sloan said he thinks violence in schools reflects a spiritual, cultural and mental health crisis in America that is not being adequately addressed.
But the school district can “only address what we can control,” board chairman Nath Morris said.
Hall County School District 2019 fiscal year
General fund: $282 million
Funding priorities: School safety, opening Cherokee Bluff middle and high schools
Tax rate: 18.20 mills
Use of reserve fund: $6.5 million