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February 12, 2013

Local educators favor statewide initiative to add police at every school

CULLMAN — Local educators favor a statewide plan to provide police at every public school for extra security, but worry about exactly how it will be funded.

Alabama House Democrats say a top priority for the Legislature’s 2013 session is a proposal to put an armed police officer in each of the approximately 1,500 public schools in Alabama.

Representative Merika Coleman-Evans of Birmingham says the measure is aimed at preventing incidents like the recent school shootings in Connecticut. A number of proposals have been made on how to make schools safer including training some school teachers and arming them. But Coleman-Evans said she believes hiring resource officers in each school makes the most sense.

“This would help make sure every student is safe,” she said.

Some Alabama schools already have resource officers, including some Cullman County schools, though many share officers due to funding issues.

Cullman County Board of Education Superintendent Billy Coleman said he would be happy to accept state or federal assistance to hire more school resource officers, but noted the system is already taking its own safety initiatives. Educators have floated ideas like bullet-resistant glass, better security systems and door blocks to barricade rooms that could be implemented soon.

“We’d like to see a resource officer on all our campuses, but we realize the limitations financially that everyone has to work with,” Coleman said. “But we have a plan in place and our schools are going to be safer. We’re very excited about some of the things we’re planning. Anything the state or federal government could do to give us would be great, but we’ll wait and see what’s available and continue to work locally on what we can do.”

Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jan Harris said the local city system is already taking steps to provide police at every city campus, but would welcome state assistance.

“It would absolutely be wonderful if the state would provide some money for that,” she said.

To help fund the police initiative, House Democrats have proposed creating a statewide lottery. House Minority Leader Craig Ford of Gadsden told the Associated Press proceeds from the lottery would be used to pay the estimated $20 million cost of placing a resource officer in every school that doesn’t currently have one. Ford said proceeds from the lottery would also be used to pay for scholarships for Alabama high School graduates.

Ford said the lottery could provide scholarships to A/B honor roll students in Alabama. He said the money could also be used to increase per diem for classroom supplies to each teacher from $300 to $1,000.

The lottery proposal would have to be approved by Alabama voters. In 1999 voters turned down a proposal to create a lottery by then- Gov. Don Siegelman.

The lottery and school safety bills were part of a package of priorities announced by House Democrats during a Statehouse news conference Wednesday.

Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn criticized the Democratic proposals.

“The Democrats’ legislative agenda is a checklist of tax and spend measures that would make Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid proud,” Hubbard said. “Rather than proposing real reforms, the House Democrats simply want to roll the dice on legalized gambling, throw more money into bloated entitlement programs and demand higher taxes from businesses at a time when we should be encouraging job creation, not discouraging it.”

Other priorities announced by Democrats include giving teachers and other school employees a 10 percent pay raise.

Democrats also proposed legislation to close corporate tax loopholes.

Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, said he will offer legislation to raise the tax on cigarettes by one dollar a pack as a way to mend the state’s cash-strapped General Fund budget.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report.

* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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