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Jan 23, 2013 by

kill zone… Texas school districts to build up huge security bureaucracies.

As a Houston community college shooting marked the latest episode of campus gun violence, legislation was unveiled Tuesday at the Capitol to allow local taxpayers to vote for additional taxes to enhance safety at public elementary and secondary schools.

Under the proposed Texas School District Safety Act, local school districts would be allowed to create special taxing districts or a dedicated sales tax to pay the costs of security — including enhanced screening and security measures at K-12 campuses.

Voters in those districts would have to approve a special tax in an election, sponsors said. Before that, though, a constitutional amendment — which requires statewide voter approval — might be needed to give local school districts the authority to levy the additional taxes.

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Finance Committee and one of three sponsors of the safety act, said he envisions that local school districts would “place trained, licensed and armed peace officers in all schools within a district — or only those in which the school district chooses.”

“This is a Texas solution to save lives without sacrificing and trampling our freedoms,” he said at a Capitol news conference. “We’ll let school districts decide for themselves what works. A blanket state mandate won’t work, nor will a one-size-fits-all policy.”

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, another sponsor, said the measure emphasizes “local option, local control.” State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, is the House sponsor.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has proposed state-funded training for school employees with a concealed-handgun license whom districts might approve to carry weapons while on duty. Williams said that is separate from Tuesday’s proposal.

While the new proposal doesn’t address community colleges, the lawmakers said that option could be added during debate.

Williams said school districts would be allowed to transfer current costs of school security to the new taxing district, instead of paying them out of their regular budget.

Williams said the new taxing authority is needed to allow school districts to pay for necessary security, apart from taxes that pay for operations, to allow taxpayers to decide in a separate election whether they want additional security. The state limits local school district tax rates, and about one-fourth of the districts have reached the cap — meaning they couldn’t ask voters for additional money for security even if they wanted to.

Williams said he doesn’t want school districts to use the additional taxing authority to “build up huge security bureaucracies.” Instead, he envisions districts using the funds for new security systems or to hire regular police or constables to provide security at schools.

Of Texas’ more than 1,000 school districts, about 160 have police forces of their own. The Austin Independent School District, the state’s fifth-largest with 86,100 students in 124 schools, has 68 police officers on its force, a district spokesman said.

Williams, Whitmire and Huberty said the measure wasn’t an attempt by the state to push costs of additional school security down on local districts.

“Local districts and local voters would make that decision,” Williams said.

In a statement, the Texas PTA, a statewide parent-teacher lobbying organization, gave its initial endorsement to the concept, which it called “a measured, conservative approach to making Texas schools more safe and secure.”

Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, had a mixed response to the proposed legislation.

“It’s a lot better than arming school teachers, because it would arm security guards and police officers who are in the business of security,” Robison said. “It may be a separate tax, but it comes out of the same wallet.”

He questioned the equity of the plan. “Poor kids in property-poor districts, their lives are not worth any less,” Robison said. “All kids should be protected.”

via Legislators propose special taxing authority for school security | www.statesman.com.

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