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Public school districts could levy more taxes to help pay for school security if a bill that is pending in the Nebraska Legislature passes.The bill (LB 346) was heard by the Revenue Committee on March 7. Ten people testified in favor and nobody testified against it or neutral during that hearing.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha to help create safer schools. It would allow school districts to choose, based on a school board vote, how much money they to levy in property taxes to fund security in schools.
The bill would set a maximum of one cent for every $100 of taxable property.
Kolowski said that because the bill deals with taxes, it could deter some committee members from advancing it to the floor. He was pleased, however, with how attentive every member was during the hearing.
The Legislature would not be the entity taxing people under the bill. Rather, it would give school districts authority to do so if they wanted.
Kolowski added an amendment requiring an analysis of need in the schools, a public meeting on the results of that analysis and a final report to the state Department of Education.
“It’s a tool for their toolbox,” Kolowski said. “If a school district feels they are adequately safe and secure right now, they don’t have to spend it. They don’t have to raise it. They don’t have to enact it.”
Many supporters submitted written testimony urging the committee to advance the bill, with a number of them sharing their personal experiences with violence in Nebraska schools.
Angelo Passarelli, administrative affairs director of Millard Public Schools, shared an experience at Millard South High School in his written testimony.
In 2011, a suspended student shot both his principal and assistant principal in the office and took his own life later. The principal was seriously injured and the assistant principal died from the gunshot wounds.
“We have taken a position in our district that we will not discuss the tragic events of Jan. 5, 2011, unless by doing so it helps us heal or helps us move forward,” Passarelli wrote. “With that said, we think this bill will help us move forward.”
Andy Pope, a middle school social studies teacher at Chadron Public Schools, also submitted written testimony. He was a victim of school violence when a seventh grade boy shot him during school in 1995.
“As you know, Chadron Public Schools and I know firsthand the need that has developed in our society for the appropriate security measures within the school setting,” Pope wrote. “This bill will allow many schools the opportunity to take those first steps in creating the safe environment each student and staff member deserves.”
Kolowski said experiences such as these are what drove him to sponsor this bill. He said he personally knew those affected in the Millard South High School incident.
“You just cannot ignore, in this day and age, the security issues of any level of school, elementary, middle or high,” Kolowski said.
Tom Casady, director of public safety for the City of Lincoln, wrote to support the bill as well, mentioning the tragedies that have happened in schools across the nation.
“Fortunately, these tragedies are rare. As time passes, however, we should not forget the importance of security at our schools,” Casady said. “Children and teachers can focus on education only if they truly feel safe.”