Civilian guards, school safety bill debated
January 29. 2013 2:56PM
Brandon Valley school officials urged legislators from Districts 10 and 25 to look at the larger issue of school safety and prevention before voting on HB1087, also called the schools sentinel bill, during a legislative coffee Saturday at Bethany Meadows in Brandon. The coffee was the first of two the Brandon Valley Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting during the legislative session.
The sentinel bill passed its first legislative hurdle Friday on an 8-7 vote in the House Education Committee. The bill, which would enable school boards to post armed civilians at their schools, passed the committee after an amendment was added requiring training for all sentinels.
Brandon Valley Superintendent Dave Pappone said his schools have had a resource officer and a crisis plan for years. But he has concerns about HB1087. He predicted that if the bill becomes law, the issue would create divided school districts across the state.
“The real answer is prevention, not response,” he said.
George Gulson, former Brandon Valley superintendent, asked who would be liable if a sentinel ever did harm someone. Pappone said schools might not be able to afford insurance on a civilian sentinel.
District 25 Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, said those were good points that needed to be discussed when the bill comes into the House.
Hansen’s fellow District 25 Representative, Scott Ecklund, R-Brandon, sits on the House Education Committee and said the committee heard testimony from school officials in outlying areas of the state who said their schools could not afford a law enforcement officer to be present in the school every day. Officials said these schools need civilian sentinels, according to Ecklund.
Another Brandon Valley Administrator disagreed.
Paul Lundberg, Brandon Valley business manager, said it’s a matter of priority.
“That costs us a teacher to have that officer,” he said.
The legislative panel Saturday also discussed school funding in general. Sen. Tim Rave, R-Baltic, Dist. 25, said school funding is important, but the state has limited income to spend and legislators want to make sure they are putting money into useful programs before they allocate it.
Ecklund said he is embarrassed that South Dakota teacher pay is as low as it is, but he echoed Rave.
“The pie (state income) isn’t that big,” he said.
Rave said he favors a program to use $5 million to give scholarships to college students majoring in education, provided they teach in the state after they graduate. Rave said the program would be self-sustaining after the first year, with interest on the principle covering future scholarships.
District 10 Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, said the higher education initiative to which Rave referred came out of the legislators’ 2012 summer study. In addition to education, the summer study looked at other issues, such as the oil and gas initiative and mountain pine beetles.
The oil and gas initiative would prepare South Dakota for any spillover of the oil boom that has hit North Dakota. South Dakota does have oil, but not the explosive potential that North Dakota is seeing, Krebs said. However, the state needs to make sure infrastructure such as roads and sewer are ready when an expected moderate oil boom comes to South Dakota, she said.
Mountain pine beetles destroy trees, leading to forest fires. District 10 Rep. Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, said the state has reached out to surrounding states to work on a solution collectively.
Krebs introduced Trooper Andrew Steen and his father, Dan Steen, who were in the audience Saturday. Andrew Steen is recovering from severe injuries he received while trying to apprehend a woman after a high-speed chase in Sioux Falls in October. The woman, who is being charged with attempted murder of Steen as well as other crimes, ran her car into Steen while attempting to flee police.
Dan Steen spoke passionately about the state’s obligation to law enforcement and troopers. He said many take security jobs on the side to supplement their income, and they put themselves in danger regularly.
“We need to start taking care of them,” he said.
He said he has heard legislators say many years that “this isn’t a good year” (for a pay raise), and he urged legislators to actively plan for a good year.
Krebs said, “We’re listening and we’re working on it, and I want you to know that.”
She said there might be ways to boost compensation for law enforcement without legislation, and she is working with state officials, including the governor’s office, to see what can be done.
“I’m working on the other side of it,” she told Steen.
|Alica P. Thiele / Argus Leader Media
Legislators met with the public Saturday at Bethany Meadows in Brandon. From left, they are District 10 Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner; District 25 Sen. Tim Rave, R-Baltic; District 25 Reps. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, and Scott Ecklund, R-Brandon; and District 10 Reps. Jenna Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, and Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls.