Superintendent proposes $13.5 million safety plan for Fayette schools
Board seeks 5-cent property tax increase to fund comprehensive initiative
Fayette County Public Schools would become a national model in the area of school safety under a 10-point plan unveiled July 2, 2018 by Superintendent Manny Caulk.
“School districts across the nation are investing in initiatives designed to improve school safety,” Caulk said. “Some are upgrading school buildings, while others are expanding mental health services or monitoring online threats. Those efforts are laudable, but the report from our District Safety Advisory Council made it clear that only a comprehensive approach will be successful.”
Caulk’s proposal outlines investments in 10 critical areas, including placing law enforcement officers in every school, hiring more mental health professionals, securing exterior school doors, constructing secure vestibules, partnering with University of Kentucky Adolescent Medicine to provide access to comprehensive adolescent assessment and health services for students in grades six through 12, expanding emergency planning and safety training, monitoring social media activity, and implementing metal detectors in every middle and high school.
“As a father and as your servant superintendent, I am compelled to do everything we can to ensure that students in the Fayette County Public Schools reach their unlimited potential,” he said. “Delivering on that promise requires challenging instruction, state-of-the-art facilities and the safest learning environment we can provide.”
In its first year, the plan will cost $13.5 million. To pay for it, Caulk will ask the Fayette County Board of Education to add a 5-cent property tax dedicated to school safety. Based on the $175,000 median value of homes in Fayette County, the proposed levy would cost the average homeowner just under $88 a year.
“For less than the price of a small pizza or movie ticket each month, we can ensure that the children of Fayette County have the safest schools in the nation,” Caulk said. “Implementing these changes comes with a cost. But I assure you that there is also a cost for doing nothing. And that is a price we simply can’t afford.”
News conference video (edited)
Bill Lear, a former board chairman of Commerce Lexington, affirmed the business community's wholehearted support for the school district's initiative. “What they’ve come up with is a robust mix of listening, talking, counseling, education, physical barriers, alarm systems, rapid response, and more enforcement personnel. That’s what convinced us it’s the right thing to do," he said.
“Nobody, especially the business community, wants to pay more taxes. But this business community has stood tall on other occasions partnering with the public schools,” noted Lear, immediate past president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “Some things are worth the money. The safety of our children is more than worth this money. When you hear the numbers, it’s a small price to pay for the safety and security of our children and our future."
In the last four months of the 2017-18 school year, more than 100 children and educators across the nation were killed or injured in shootings on American school campuses, Caulk said. According to The Washington Post, the number of school children killed in school shootings in 2018 is nearly double the number of casualties of U.S. service members who lost their lives during that same time period. Data shows that the loss of life is on the rise: Since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, 425 children and adults have been killed or injured in school shootings. Consider that 24 percent – nearly a fourth – of those occurred just in the second semester of last school year.
“The times are changing, but our values remain the same,” Caulk said. “We want our children and those who educate them to be safe at school. After each shooting over the past two decades, educators, students and parents have wondered if it could happen in our community. That question was answered for us on February 17 when Lexington Police officers removed an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition from a student’s bedroom less than half a mile from where we stand today.”
On Feb. 22, Caulk announced the creation of the District Safety Advisory Council. Composed of 28 students, parents, school and district employees, law enforcement representatives, city officials, and community members selected for their personal experience and professional expertise in the area of safety and emergency management, the group was charged to examine best practices and develop specific, actionable recommendations to ensure that children are safe at school, at home, and in the community.
A few days later, a student brought a gun to Henry Clay High School. The next week a student at Frederick Douglass High School accidentally shot himself in the hand with a gun he had brought to school.
The council met six times during March and heard from national, state, and local experts in the areas of school safety, juvenile justice, mental health, and social media, in addition to receiving public input from hundreds of concerned citizens. The group released a whitepaper in May, concluding that the issues putting children at risk are complex and require broad-based solutions spanning homes, schools, and the community. The council called for immediate action by lawmakers, schools and districts, families and students, and the community-at-large, and identified specific steps for each.
Caulk said the school district will continue to partner with lawmakers, families, students, and the community at large, while moving forward on the recommendations the District Safety Advisory Council outlined for schools. "Our district has a clear set of next steps in the area of school safety,” he said. “Our community has been a leader in this space, and we want to continue to lead even as we commit to continuing to work alongside lawmakers and others.”
The Comprehensive 10-Point Safety Investment Plan calls for:
- Hiring 50 more law enforcement officers to ensure that each school has at least one officer on campus.
- Adding 37 mental health professionals in year one to reduce ratios to no more than 300:1, and moving to lower ratios in subsequent years to reach national best practice guidelines.
- Installing security alarms to all exterior doors to alert staff of potential unauthorized entry, and upgrading facilities to include cameras, security systems, and other safety enhancements.
- Requiring ID badges for all staff, contractors, and middle and high school students.
- Partnering with University of Kentucky Adolescent Medicine to provide access to comprehensive adolescent assessment and health services for all middle and high school students. Phase-in will start with the high schools.
- Equipping all middle and high schools, as well as other programs, with walk-through metal detectors and supplemental security personnel to assist school staff with implementation.
- Renovating buildings to ensure all schools have secure vestibules that require double entry access.
- Contracting with an external vendor to monitor possible safety/security threats made publicly on social media across multiple platforms, and alert district and school administrators to posts warranting investigation.
- Adopting a common Social and Emotional Learning curriculum districtwide, and expanding trainings and learning opportunities for staff, students, families, and community stakeholders regarding safety, emergency preparation, mental health, and social and emotional learning.
- Modernizing emergency communication and planning.
“Each of these 10 points reflect national and state best practices,” Caulk said. “Once they are implemented, I am confident that Fayette County Public Schools will have the most comprehensive approach to school safety in the nation and will serve as a model for the rest of the state and country.”
The recommendations work in concert to build on existing strengths and address potential vulnerabilities in order to make Lexington schools the safest place in our communities for students and the staff responsible for their education, he said. “This is not a menu of options, and it is critical that we not push for some strategies at the exclusion of others,” Caulk said. “Cherry picking will leave our schools no safer than they are right now.”
During the 2018 legislative session, Fayette County leaders advocated for three priorities: full funding for public education, increasing investments in school safety and security, and expanding mental health services. "While that did not happen, it is important to note there were reasons to celebrate,” Caulk said, praising Gov. Matt Bevin for his advocacy to increase funding for social workers and reform the adoption and foster care systems.
“Governor Bevin is a champion for those investments, which will help make our most vulnerable children safer at home and provide stability for families, and I thank him for that advocacy,” Caulk said. “I also applaud our legislative leaders for adopting provisions to allow us to hire retired officers in our schools and creating a bi-partisan School Safety Working Group. That work will be critical for ensuring the safety of children across the Commonwealth.”
Caulk noted that while other states are also addressing issues of school safety, local communities are moving forward with initiatives, albeit on a smaller scale than the 10-point plan he has proposed. For example, in Florida, the Sarasota County School Board is creating a district-appointed police force. In Georgia, the Fulton County school board voted in late June to form a school safety advisory committee that will release recommendations in 90 days. In North Carolina, the Orange County school district is implementing an online security service to flag threats of violence made on social media posts.
“One thing I’ve learned about Fayette County is that we don’t do things halfway here. Our community demands world-class schools, and I believe this is the best course of action for us to take at this time,” Caulk said, likening this decision to the community’s support in 2007 for a dedicated property tax to address longstanding facility needs.
Since 2007, FCPS has renovated 22 schools, built five schools, acquired a facility for the STEAM Academy, renovated two support facilities, and broken ground on a 37th elementary school. In total, these projects have generated an investment of more than $487.2 million in the local economy.
“Having worked in school districts in five other states, I can tell you that our school facilities are second to none,” Caulk said. “Today I am asking our community to do the same for safety because no child should go to school in fear, no educator should have to use their bodies to shield the students in their classes from harm, and every family should welcome their children and loved ones home at the end of the day.”
The school board will vote on the property tax levy on July 18 after a 5:30 p.m. public hearing in Conference Room C at 701 E. Main St.
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