Manawa examines school safety
Gorman seeks liaison officer
By Holly Neumann
Manawa Police Chief James Gorman spoke to the school board about safety concerns.
“It is your decision, but we are ready to move ahead,” said Gorman regarding a school resource officer (SRO).
Gorman said the district once had a SRO that was covered by a grant.
“It upset me when we lost that officer here,” he said. “I am not comfortable with it at all and I think in today’s times it’s an absolute necessity to have that safety in the schools.”
He expressed concerns if an active shooter situation were to arise.
“It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when,” Gorman said at the April 1 meeting. “It takes me two minutes to get here from my office. Someone can shoot off a whole lot of bullets in the matter of two minutes. But if you have a liaison officer here to take care of such situation and address that threat immediately it could save lives.”
Gorman said that he worries every day.
“The responsibility falls on each and every one of you,” he said. “I think everyone here needs to take this seriously and focus in that we do need a liaison officer in this community.”
“What we are hearing from you is that there are true challenges within our community and in our school,” said school board member Helene Pohl, noting that the solutions are more complex.
“I am sensitive to your argument about an active shooter. I cannot promise you that we will never have an active shooter here, but it is still a rare exception in this country,” Pohl said.
She felt that the district cannot prepare or prevent every disaster. That the incidence of children dying as the result of a school shooting is minimal.
“Statistically, even though there is strong emotional baggage for all of us because we don’t want to see children being held hostage, maimed or worse, killed,” said Pohl. “I know it makes the headlines, but if we look at the statistics its 150 students in the last 15 years. We lose a lot more students to suicide, drug abuse, child neglect, child abuse and cancer. That is what keeps me awake at night. How can we keep our kids from suffering trauma wherever it comes from?”
Mayor John Smith suggested that the district use the Department of Human Services when dealing with some of these issues.
“I know there are mental health issues, and I understand that the staff has been trained to help recognize this, but with 20 to 30 other kids in the classroom, by the time staff reacts to it, it’s already been proven that it hasn’t stopped anything. If we don’t put a stop to it somewhere it’s going to escalate to a bad situation. We have people in the county that are supposed to be here to help.”
According to Pohl, school districts have tried to access DHS and they are not responsive.
“There has been a change of personnel and apparently it’s not working,” she said.
District Administrator Melanie Oppor said the board discussed school safety at its February meeting and decided to focus efforts on mental health.
An early summer symposium for the community will be held to talk about the issues they are facing and what kind of services are available to the community.
The salary of a SRO would range between $49,000 and $62,000 and would be split 70/30 with the city.
It could be funded through Fund 80.
Currently there is $40,000 in Fund 80, which is used for step volunteers and middle school/community sports. Fund 80 could be increased without going to referendum.
“If we are willing to have the taxpayers to pay more, at the annual meeting, they would have to bring this forward and approve it,” said District Business Manager Carmen O’Brien. “This would work out to adding 11 cents for single person and 9 cents for a family to the mill rate. So $9 and $11 per $100,000 of property per year. But there are a lot of unknowns as far as what our budget year will bring.”
O’Brien said the district cut $200,000 from the budget this year due to rising insurance costs. And next year they are looking at an additional $300,000 to $400,000 in cuts due to decreased enrollment and a decrease in aid.
“For the people that claim their taxes are too high already, what value do they place on the safety of our school?” asked Smith. “We cannot just say, ‘We can’t afford this.’ The city was able to find it in their budget. I think this is a great place to place some money and I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”