CASPER, Wyo. — Gov. Matt Mead’s school safety task force has three more months to devise a plan to make Wyoming schools less vulnerable to violence.
Mead has asked the group to create a blueprint to modernize Wyoming’s safety standards in all of its school districts. The task force must complete a report by August for the governor to approve. The report will then go to the Legislature’s Select Committee on Education Accountability in October. The lawmakers will then decide whether to draft a bill for the 63rd Wyoming Legislature.
Some task force members will have a teleconference today to discuss ways to get more school resource officers into schools throughout the state.
Other experts picked by Mead will assess vulnerabilities in the more than 370 facilities throughout the state’s 53 school districts. The remaining members will focus on how to apply emergency training for law enforcement officers and educators across the state.
The governor’s office and the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security are funding the task force and trying to keep the expenses at a minimum, using teleconferences and other cost-saving ways for members to brainstorm ideas and work on a plan, said Tony Young, deputy chief of staff for Mead.
The frugality comes at a time when tight budgets and shrinking state revenues have the state watching its expenditures. The outcome of the task force will likely add a new cost to the state, Young said. The group is trying to figure out how to leverage resources, affect the design of buildings, and devise a plan to secure school facilities.
On the task force are behavioral health specialists, law enforcement officers, teachers, superintendents, state lawmakers, firefighters, one member of the military and officials from homeland security.
“This is going to be a concerted effort done over a period of time,” Young said. “It’s not going to go away.”
School resource officers have been one of the most talked-about issues in the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They are police officers who do more than enforce the law inside schools. There are only 35 serving in all the schools throughout the state.
There’s a triad effect with SROs, said Cody Myers, a Riverton police officer who is an SRO in Fremont School District No. 25 and president of the School Resource Officer Association.
“We’re law enforcement, teachers and counselors,” he said.
Myers has done more than walk the halls in his district with a badge. He’s taught after-school classes and even put on rodeo events at which 50 students got to ride and learn more about the sport. He’s gone the extra mile to promote the importance of his position, he said.
“You got to get creative and you got to sell what you do,” he said.
The Wyoming Legislature considered a bill this year that would have provided one SRO per 1,000 students and a $2.3 million appropriation for SROs. It began in the House with a $19 million price tag, but lawmakers chopped more than $16 million off the bill before it entered the Senate. The Senate killed the bill after its first reading and decided to have a study on the subject instead. Lawmakers will use the report from the task force as the material for their review.
The measure could have added 11 more SROs to the Natrona County School District, said Dean Braughton, director of Student Support Services for the district. “It was a great bill,” Braughton said. “The larger schools in the district have more students than some Wyoming communities have people,” he said. “
NCSD has two SROs that work between 13,000 kids and 35 schools. The district will not lose any SROs at the end of the year, Braughton said.
One SRO from Hot Springs County School District 1 will not be returning after the end of the school year because the initial bill didn’t pass.
The bill from the Legislature was meant to provide funds to keep all current SROs in place for next school year.
The funding for SROs comes from various sources. Some school districts fully fund them with the help of federal dollars. Others split the costs with counties.
It’s a patchwork funding process, said Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis and sponsor of the SRO bill.
“There’s no line item on the budget for SROs, so districts just cobble money together,” he said.
With hundreds of school facilities in the state, 35 SROs won’t be enough, Young said.
“We’re going to need more than that if we’re going to efficiently cover schools,” Young said. “How we’re going to pay for it, that I am not sure.”