In the wake of last month’s tragedy at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, lawmakers across the country were left with the question, “How can we provide safer learning environments for our K-12 students?” Although Maine has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation, we know that such a tragedy, perpetrated by a disturbed person bent on murder, can happen here.

For that reason, I am introducing a bill to the Legislature to address the most immediate and sensible solution to keeping our children safe in school: hardening our school buildings and grounds. In my legislative career, I’ve focused my work on achieving the possible, and I believe that this bill is politically supportable by our 186 lawmakers in Augusta.

With over 600 public school buildings in our state, of which more than half were designed and built prior to the 1970s, it’s easy to imagine the list of pressing repairs outside of security enhancements these facilities face. Also, in the early 1970s, concepts like crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) began to gain traction. In 2013, after another school tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Legislature passed a resolve directing the Department of Education to examine school security. From that came reports from Safe Havens International and PDT Architects that were made confidential because they contain “highly sensitive, life-saving information.” Excerpts from the report are publicly available, including a recommendation that a “Maine School Safety Center” be created, along with prioritized school security enhancements.

I am proposing a $20 million general obligation bond to create a School Security Enhancement Fund and a safety center within the Department of Education.

The creation of the School Security Enhancement Fund, administered through the Department of Education, is modeled on the School Revolving Renovation Fund (SRRF) funded through the Maine Bond Bank. My bill will allow our schools to qualify for funds exceeding their normal maintenance budgets for security installations and upgrades. Schools will apply for funding for safety enhancements that meet their emergency and crisis plans. A portion of these funds will need to be spent on staff training familiarizing them with the new security feature, thus guaranteeing appropriate usage.

As is the case with the SRRF, a portion of each loan will be forgiven and these forgiveness rates are based on the percentage of state subsidy paid to the local school district. The remaining balance is paid back in five or 10 years and goes back into the fund for other projects.

A safety center within the Department of Education will be formed using $500,000 of the approved bond amount. A school safety center would work as a clearinghouse for safety, security, and emergency strategies, and at its core would be interagency collaboration to assure effective policies, procedures, and training for our schools.

This proposal not only seeks to keep people with no legitimate business in our school buildings out, but also makes strategic investments that will enhance the overall safety of our students, teachers, staff, school visitors, and first responders. While school shootings are top-of-mind with current events, our schools face other threats more frequently that endanger the physical and emotional security of our learning environments. These arise from domestic violence situations, custodial issues, and bullying.

To create a Maine School Security Enhancement Fund and safety center is the only way we can assure that this work is made possible. Without a revenue source dedicated to hardening security in our schools, necessary improvements will merely be words on the pages of a confidential report. Further, if we fail to develop effective policies to silo money for security upgrades, more pressing facility maintenance issues will always be the priority.

I am looking forward to giving my colleagues in the Legislature the opportunity to make a historic investment in the safety of Maine’s school children and those who serve them. From there, Maine voters will have the opportunity to join in on this critical effort. I promise in the waning days of this session I’ll do my best to achieve the possible.

Rep. Patrick Corey is serving his second term in the Maine House representing District 25 which includes part of Windham. He is also serving his second term on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee


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