Kentucky State Capitol

Kentucky State Capitol

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky School Boards Association believes school districts will need about $18 million to improve safety features at school buildings and at least $121 million more each year for resource officers and counselors to comply with the School Safety and Resiliency Act passed by the General Assembly this year.

KSBA, which presented those figures Tuesday during a meeting of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Education, based those estimates on feedback from a survey it sent to Kentucky school districts this year after the passage of Senate Bill 1. Eric Kennedy, KSBA’s director of advocacy, said about a third of the state’s 172 districts responded to the survey, which he said represented “a good mix” of districts.

It’s the first look at how much school districts expect to spend on safety measures under new mandates, as the General Assembly prepares to craft a two-year spending plan in next year’s session.

Those funding estimates, however, are based on the minimum requirements or stated goals of SB 1. For instance, Kennedy said the $18.2 million in projected facility costs represent how much school districts expect to spend to simply bring their buildings into compliance with the new law — not necessarily best practices in school security.

Kennedy said security experts recommend having double-entry vestibules for schools and providing separate driving lanes on school campuses for cars and buses to improve access for first responders during emergencies, two items that not all buildings and campuses in Kentucky districts have.

“To install (double-entry vestibules) in every building would be substantially expensive, much higher than this figure,” he said during a phone interview Wednesday. “… Redesigning parking lots and doing that kind of work would be a substantial expense that is not something required in Senate Bill 1.”

He also said that the $73.4 million in projected spending for new counselors reflects the new law’s stated goal of providing enough professionals so districts have one counselor for every 250 students, with 60% of the employees' time dedicated to counseling.

SB 1 requires only that school districts provide one counselor for every school starting July 1, 2021.

Districts also are mandated to assign one school resource officer for every school, but both of those staffing provisions are contingent on the availability of funding and qualified applicants. Kennedy said KSBA estimated that the new SRO provision would cost districts $47.8 million, and both personnel projections could cost more when factoring in required pension contributions.

“I do agree with anyone that would say we don’t necessarily have all of these people right now even if we had all of the money in the world,” Kennedy said. “That was true last year.”

“There literally are not enough counselors and SROs with certificates and licenses and trained ready to go now, which is why the bill says as funds and qualified personnel become available,” he said.

The financial projections of SB 1 received a lukewarm response from lawmakers on the budget review subcommittee, Kennedy said. Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, attended Tuesday’s meeting and said the General Assembly is committed to funding SB 1 on top of significant expenditures such as pensions for public employees and teachers.

But the extent of state funding remains unclear. Kennedy said predicting budgetary decisions is a risky prospect before official revenue estimates are set by the Consensus Forecasting Group, on which lawmakers base the amount of funding available in the upcoming biennium.

“I think what we probably are looking at is something less than this kind of full, immediate implementation cost figure,” Kennedy said. “We’re probably looking at the best we can do now, phasing it in. I don’t know what that number would be.”

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, who sponsored SB 1, said lawmakers will need to look at one-time costs to implement the new law and prioritize areas that should be funded first. Wise said that once Ben Wilcox, the state’s newly installed school security marshal, and his team review the needs of schools across the state to comply with SB 1, some of KSBA’s cost projections may shrink.

Wise remains committed to ensuring the state fund the new requirements and said he plans to meet with McDaniel and Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, who chairs the House Budget Committee, to discuss funding for the new law.

“We’re going to have to look at this in terms of longevity because school safety’s not just something we’re going to look to do one time,” Wise told WDRB News on Wednesday.

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