The Problems with Putting Metal Detectors in Our Schools

School safety has brought a number of topics to the forefront. Care needs to be taken to make sure that solutions that are applied are not simply reactive or emotional, but rather truly respond to improving school safety. Recent reactive responses range from the President of the United States saying teachers should be armed to parents starting funding pages for metal detectors in schools. Reactive solutions might feel good to most people at first, but as you dig deeper into the details, such responses can cause more issues than they solve.

Metal detectors are a reactive response to school safety. Metal detectors are simply machines that can be placed at entrances to make sure that guns are not brought into the schools. They operate by sounding a warning when a certain amount of metal passes through the detector. Good detectors will not only tell you if metal is passing through, but will also indicate which area within the detector’s sensors (a zone) the metal is passing.

In order to be most effective, you need a detector that covers multiple zones. Such detectors range between two and five thousand dollars each, with the ones recommended for schools being between four and five thousand dollars (US). The detector shown in Figure 1 has 33 zones and was available on Amazon for $4,000 at the time this post was written.


Figure 1: A walk-through metal detector

Securing a Building

Many public buildings such as court houses and airports use metal detectors. These buildings are used as examples of how metal detectors are used effectively.

There is, however, one big difference between these examples and schools.
Government buildings and airports have limited entry points. Those entry points are constantly secured. A person cannot enter without going through the specific entrance points.

In order for a school to be secure, it would need to be locked down to where nobody could ever without being checked via a metal detector. This would mean that for every event, at any time during the day, every person would need to be checked. This would include all after school activities, sporting events, and other activities that occur outside of the normal school hours. For each of these events, people would have to be checked. Additionally, all doors would need to be monitored to make sure that they are never opened or entered without a check for guns. This would require staffing not only during the school hours, but at any time anyone needs to enter a building. If there is a time when a person could open a door and let someone in without doing a check, then all of the safety that was gained with the detectors could be lost.

One suggested solution is to eliminate many of the doors  at a school. The reality is that schools were designed to provide easy evacuation in case of an emergency such as a gas leak, fire, or other situation. The high number of doors is a safety measure. Removing them, would reduce safety in the event of other situations.

The True Cost of Metal Detectors in Schools

Assuming that a school could be secured, then at only $4,000 each, it might seem inexpensive to get a metal detector. While one person has set up a funding drive to get a metal detector for each school in our area, it is important to note that the cost of one metal detector doesn’t represent the true cost for a school.

The first issue is that more than one detector is needed in most schools. As already mentioned, to be effective, you need to have metal detectors at every location where a person could enter a school. As such, buying one metal detector for each school in a district would be pointless. Rather you need one for each door. For HSE, this can 23 or more  different doors at a single high school or as many as 15 at an elementary school. For example, New Britton Elementary has 15 numbered doors. Suddenly the $4,000 cost becomes $92,000 or more for a high school and $60,000 for an elementary, assuming just one only detector at each door.

Assuming you install detectors (which might add an additional cost), you would then need a qualified person to monitor people passing through the detector. If you have 23 doors, that would mean an additional 23 people are needed to monitor each of the detectors. The salaries of 23 people would overshadow the cost of the detectors themselves.

In a district with 21 schools, if you assume 15 doors per elementary through junior high, and 23 in each high school, then you are looking at over 300 detectors and staff.

2,300 in 20 to 30 Minutes

Another issue that schools would have to address if detectors were used is the flow of people into the school. To be effective, the high schools would need to be able to process around 2,300 students through the doors in 20 to 30 minutes. If you are using 10 main doors, then that would be 230 kids per door or roughly 10 kids a minute. As long as there are zero issues, then you might be able to do a kid every six seconds; however, I’ve never seen an airport line move that fast through a single detector.

One of the issues raised with schools with detectors is that bottlenecks can cause lines to queue up outside of the doors. How do you make sure these kids lined up outside of the school door are safe?

Recess

Similar to the queues that could be created outside of doors for kids to get into a school, you also have to consider the times that kids are outside of a school building. While metal detectors might help reduce the chance of weapons getting into a school building, they won’t do anything for the kids that are outside on the playground, the track, the football field, or otherwise doing outside activities.

Metal Detectors Detect Metal

One of the comments I hear the most is from people who grew up with metal detectors in the schools they attended. They state that they had them when they were in school, so there shouldn’t be an issue using them now.
The world changed. When these people went to school, there was no 1-to-1 initiatives where every kid carried a computer – a computer made with lots of metal.

When you factor in the issue of every kid carrying a computer that will set off a metal detector, then you also need to factor in the increased amount of time it will take to get through the metal detectors as computers are removed from backpacks and processed outside of the metal detector. This not only slows down the entire process of getting kids into the schools, it also increases the need for trained people to monitor each detector since items would be getting passed around them.

“No School Shooter Has Gone Through a Locked Door.”

HSE Superintendent Dr. Bourff indicated that in the previous school district where he had worked, guns were not found in the school. Rather, tips led to guns that were hidden outside of the school. If a person hides a gun right outside of the school, then the detector isn’t going to slow them down should they decide they want to use it. While it would alert that they are there with a large piece of metal, other systems are in place within schools, such as the secured vestibules, that would be more effective.

Show the Statistics

Metal detectors have been shown to be an emotional response to school security. While metal detectors do add an additional layer to school security, statistics are needed to show they are effective in schools.

To Summarize…

The true cost of buying and operating metal detectors would be better spent on other security features including an increase in Security Resource Officers and better communication. While having metal detectors might give the appearance of better security, it only takes one door to not be monitored for a few minutes to eliminate all of the security that the detectors were expected to provide. Most indications are that metal detectors are not a viable security solution in today’s twenty first century schools. While they might give the sense of security in the same way a fake video camera does, the reality is that they are flawed when it comes to preventing the threat they are meant to stop.

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Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools: Part 1

Back in March the Hamilton Southeastern School leadership reached out to individuals at each of the twenty-one schools to have a meeting to discuss security within the schools. The “school safety” meeting was focused on having a community conversation around how safe our kids are within the HSE schools.

The meeting was kicked off by Superintendent Dr. Bourff and lead by Dr. Beresford, the Assistant Superintendent of Staff and Student Services. They expected to have a forty- to fifty-minute presentation followed by two-way discussion. It was no surprise that the actual presentation of information by the district was closer to 90 minutes before the conversation started. In this post, I present many of my notes from this meeting. As you’ll see below, a lot was covered.

Recently the district had a second meeting that covered many of the same topics that was open to the public. That meeting was attended by hundreds of members of the community, numerous members of the police forces from around Hamilton County, and the mayor. The comments made at this more recent meeting were similar to the comments made in March.

Safety Procedures at Hamilton Southeastern Schools

Dr. Bourff kicked off the March meeting by indicating that there are many safety procedures in place within the HSE schools that they couldn’t share in order to protect the procedures. It was stated that there are a number of safety procedures in place and that many of the safety procedures would continue to evolve and improve.

The point person within HSE for security related activities is Dr. Beresford. (Update: Dr. Beresford is leaving HSE Schools to work for the Carmel-Clay district. As such, it is expected that a new person will be taking the role of security related activities for HSE.)

Dr. Bourff indicated that there are many layers to the safety procedures within the school system that all work together. In addition to these layers, there are many individuals within the school system that contribute to core initiatives around the safety and security of the kids.

Dr. Beresford stated, “We’re responsible for keeping your kids safe.” He went on to say that school shootings shake everyone up. Shootings not only impacts the kids and parents, but it also shakes up the teachers and administration. It is for this reason that they have a lot of people engaged in continually improving the strategy and in working with the schools and community. Many of the people leading safety initiatives attended the March meeting to present on School Safety.

Three Layers of Prevention

Dr. Beresford indicated that there are three areas of focus when discussing school safety: Prevention, Response, Recovery.

One of the most important keys to prevention of issues within the schools is to maintain positive relationships and communication. By having positive relationships, it is more likely communication will happen. There are three layers of communication that are pinnacle for reducing the chance of safety issues happening within the school.

The number one source of information around potential issues is students.

The importance of keeping channels of communication open with the students and others was emphasized as being critical. The school works hard to make sure that students are comfortable in sharing what they hear or see that might seem out of line or a bit “off”.

The second layer that provides information in the prevention of issues is communications from parents and staff. Like with students, parents and staff are more likely to see or hear something that could indicate an issue.

The third layer in the prevention is the communication that happens via other sources. This would include comments and tips that come from social media or other sources. Social media sources such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat often are used as sources to provide evidence of potential issues.

Text-a-Tip

One of the existing preventative programs currently in place is Text-Tip, which is a program that allows students, parents, or others to send text or email messages anonymously. It was indicated that these tips go through a third party that is outside of Indiana. This helps maintain the privacy of the person making the tip. Even by going through a third party, it was indicated that the system can be extremely fast and can be two-way. The administration has the ability to reach back to the third party, which can then respond back to the tipster if more information is needed.

Text-a-Tip is one of the top two or three channels for the administration to get information. It was indicated that the system is helpful beyond even security information. Text-a-Tip can be added to your mobile phone contacts under the number 274637.

Mental Health Initiatives

When it comes to school safety, mental health is a topic that is brought up as well. It was stated that “mental health is always a piece of the profile of kids that do violence.”

Within the Hamilton Southeastern schools, several mental health initiatives have been pushed to the forefront this past year. This includes each of our schools having a therapist that is available to the students. This was a direct result of the referendum dollars and a program that was set up with Community Health.

Along with the addition of therapists, there has been training within the schools. All staff have received suicide prevention training as well as CIT-Y, Critical Incident training. All of this is overseen by a director of mental health and school counseling, Brooke Lawson, who works within the Central Office.

Police in the Schools: School Resource Officers (SROs)

One of the key areas of helping secure our schools is the inclusion of School Resource Officers (SROs). There are currently seven SROs within the HSE school system. At the recent public meeting, it was stated that the district is looking to add additional SROs in the future. Lt. Mike Johnson talked at the meeting about the role of the SROs within the schools.

SROs are trained police offers that have the roles of teaching, counseling, and providing enforcement. While these are police officers, the role of law enforcement is really a minor part of what they do. They are also not disciplinarians. That is a role that the school takes on.

Lt. Mike Johnson defined SROs as:

A School Resource Officer (SRO) is a career, sworn, law enforcement officer employed by the police department or other law enforcement agency in a community-oriented policing assignment to work in collaboration with one or more schools.

The SROs are focused on building relationships within the schools with the students. Because it is a unique role, not ever police officer is qualified to become an SRO. Police officers are carefully selected for the position and then specially trained. It is because of this special training and careful selection that new SROs are not immediately available. Rather, officers selected today would be trained to be ready later in the year for the positions.

SROs go through special training, which includes 40 hours of course work beyond what they learn as a regular police officer. This training includes a variety of areas including:

  • Emergency Operations Plans
  • CPTED/Vulnerability Assessments
  • Threat Response
  • ALICE Lockdown Response
  • Trauma Informed Practices
  • Human Trafficking
  • School Law
  • Understanding Special Needs Students
  • Adolescent Mental Health
  • Violence and Victimization in Youth (ACES)
  • Policing the Teenage Brain
  • Drug Trends/Prevention
  • And more…

One of the tasks that SROs do above and beyond working within the schools is to create a list of issues they find in the schools. This can range from things as simple as broken sidewalks where someone could get hurt to concerns with student access that could cause safety issues.

Overall, the SROs are involved in many programs within the schools. Some of the programs that have evolved within the district include:

  • Safe School Teams / Safe School Specialists
  • DARE Program
  • Cops and Kids
  • CPTED
  • Explorers / Teen Academy
  • Text-a-Tip
  • Youth Mentoring
  • Books and Badges
  • Coaching
  • Mock Accidents
  • Bully Prevention
  • Pre-School Safety
  • Youth Assistance

In addition to the communication that happens with the SROs within the schools, there is also regular communication between the local police and the school leadership. Issues such as domestic violence can have an impact on a child and thus it is important for councilors and certain others within a school system to be aware of such issues.

Continue to Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 2.

Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 2

This is a continuation of the Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 1 article.

Safety Specialists

Christi Thomas talked about communications and the use of safety specialists within HSE. It is required by state legislation for school districts to have at least one safety specialist. HSE has 40 trained specialists on staff with at least one in each of the 21 schools.

In addition to having safety specialists, each school also has a safety plan that include an emergency reference guide. These plans are available in flowcharts for easy use to those that need them. These are not made public because, as mentioned before, their confidentiality helps in providing security to the schools.

The overall program for the safety specialist is led by the safety coordinators, Christi Thomas mentioned earlier and Ryan Taylor. Additionally, the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy (ISSSA) is used.

While school shootings have been the topic in the limelight, there are other issues that are rare, but real as well. The safety specialists don’t want to be too distracted from issues that happen more often. This can include issues such as seizures in class, missing kids, or even gas leaks. The little things that happen every day are important to manage as well as those rarer issues.

ALICE

One area that the schools focus on for safety is ALICE. More can be found on the ALICE program at www.alicetraining .com. Alice stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. It is a program that addresses methods to proactively handle a thread such as an aggressive intruder or active shooter.

While the acronym includes the phrase lockdown, the core of the ALICE training is that each situation is different and thus students and teachers need to know the options they have in dealing with situations. The ALICE training site has a lot of information for individuals, organizations, and more.

One area of ALICE that has caused controversy is the “C” for Counter. This was addressed with the statement that “If you do nothing, bad things will happen. If you do something, then bad things might happen.” The protocol of hiding in the corner is no longer considered a good approach. Distracting or otherwise taking action is considered a better approach. A reference was made to Virginia Tech, where it was noted that the kids that ran and fought were the ones that survived.

While tornados haven’t killed students in recent years, schools still do drills to keep kids safe. It was noted that there are roughly 77 million students. An average of only 11 are killed a year. Having said that, it was stated that “No bad guy has breached a locked door at a school.”

What HSE Schools are Already Doing

HSE schools are ahead of the curve on some of the programs that have been implemented in regard to safety. Again, while all the changes were not discussed, there are several key programs that have improved the safety of the schools within HSE.

Better Access Control

One of the biggest changes that occurred after Sandy Hook has been the revamping of the primary entrances to schools to give better access control. During the daytime hours, visitors are required to enter through the schools’ main entrances. In the past, small cameras were used with a buzzer for people to request entry into a building. This has been completely replaced with vestibules that were designed for a more secure entry. These include laminated glass doors that allow the office staff to see anyone requesting to enter the building. Unlike the cameras, the staff can get a full view of the person along with their body language. The previous use of buttons and cameras didn’t allow for this level of visibility.

In the few cases where the vestibules couldn’t be added, high definition cameras and other monitoring have been added to increase the visibility of who is entering.

Delay, Delay, Delay

There are also multiple sets of doors. These doors provide delays in people getting into the building. The idea of “delay, delay, delay” is a part of the security strategy. Slowing down a person’s ability to get into the school increases the time for those within the school to react.

Many of the schools have included glass walls for visibility and a more open concept. The increase of glass in school designs is a safety concern that often gets brought up. It is important to know that the entry doors and glass walls are laminated. While this is not bullet proofing, it does prevent the glass from shattering. It was stated that laminated glass walls are as safe or possibly even safer than walls made with drywall.

Background Checks

An additional safety feature is the use of background checks. All visitors to HSE schools are required to have a recent background check on file. While many people feel that background checks are silly, they are a key part of the safety strategy that started about 12 years ago. HSE currently uses Safe Visitors out of Plainville, Indiana to do the checks.

If a person has an issue on their background check, then they will not be allowed to enter the buildings during the school day. It has been stated that several people have complained about not being allowed to sit with their child at lunch, to volunteer, or to attend a class party. Regardless, the school system has indicated that if a background check isn’t clean, then a person won’t be allowed into the school.

Teachers also get background checks when they are hired as well as every five years after.

Communication

One of the areas that the district has been working to improve is communication. Communication can occur anywhere from a one-to-one level all the way up to district wide communications using. There are a variety of avenues for communicating that include the district web site that is being updated to the Skylerts that send emails and text messages. With staff, the district uses a set of redundant tools that range from telephone calls to texts to emails and emergency radios.

The school system has put in place common language in the form of the Common Language Safety Chart that is to be used when discussing issues. The following figure shows the wording used based on the level of threats that might occur.

Continuous Improvements

Safety is an area that will require constant updating. As threats evolve, so must the plans and efforts to insure the safety of the kids attending our schools. Members of the HSE school safety team do regular evaluation of school incidents that occur in other cities, states, across the country, and even internationally. There are debriefings that occur on school safety incidents. Additionally, there are regular reviews as well as an annual ISSSA certification.

This article continues with Safety and the Student at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Q & A.

Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools – Q & A

This is a continuation of the Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 1 article.

Questions and Answers from the HSE Safety Meeting

The March meeting was followed with an open discussion question and answer session. Questions were raised around several common issues. The following is based on my notes from the meeting.

Q: Why doesn’t HSE screen kids?

Dr. Bourff indicated this was a regular question. He indicated that the district does not screen kids.

Q: Could we restrict the size of backpacks?

This is something that could be considered. Another question that was raised at the public meeting was in regard to using clear backpacks. Dr. Bourff indicated this is something that they would take under consideration as well. There was also an indication that at some point (years) in the future, the use of technology might reduce or eliminate the need for backpacks.

My personal thought to this is based on feedback I’ve heard. Clear backpacks are not necessarily a viable solution. Would you also remove pockets, coats, purses, and other areas where items could be smuggled into a building? Additionally, there are some items that are needed by kids such as medications and personal hygiene items that could be embarrassing to carry in a clear bag where other kids could see them.

Q: Do we have ‘circles’ or times where each kid can be simply asked “how are you doing?”

I don’t have an answer written for this question. Part of the role of the SROs is to build these relationships and to work on keeping communication open with students. It is hoped that teachers, counselors, and others would do this as well.

Q: Is the school district considering metal detectors?

Dr. Bourff addressed this question with a response that it was “not likely. Maybe.” He indicated that metal detectors are not shown to be effective. In addition to weapons being left outside of a school, there are numerous issues that come with the logistics and costs of using metal detectors. There are enough details around metal detectors that I’ve written a separate commentary on the topic.

Q: There is a requirement to have a background check to volunteer for class parties, however, the doors seem to be open more freely during this type of school event…

The response to this was, “We have moments where we are vulnerable. There are a number of times when the offices simply can’t cycle the number of people that are entering a building. This is a topic that will need to be reviewed.”

Q: Will class parties be taken away? For example, the “Wellness Walk” at one of the schools is rumored to be possibly taken away.

Dr. Beresford responded that they don’t want to frighten the kids, but they want the kids to be secure. When there is a cop on campus, most bad people will leave.

This is the answer I have in my notes. It doesn’t really answer the question. This question was followed by the next question.

Q: Is it possible to have more security officers at vulnerable times?

It was indicated that during some of these more vulnerable times there are traffic cops and others that are also at the school or within the areas.

Q: Are there any plans for an SRO at all of the schools?

Currently there are seven SROs for the 21 HSE schools. There is one at each of the high schools and then the others bounce between the rest of the schools.

Dr. Beresford commented on this question. He indicated that all public buildings such as court houses have security with the exception of schools and possibly post offices. He stated that we have 22 buildings but can’t afford 22 officers. While one person in the audience indicated that the district should raise taxes to get an officer in every school, that person didn’t currently have a child within HSE yet.

Dr. Bourff indicated that there has been a discussion on a state-wide initiative for a referendum to cover school security. He stated that there are some schools in the state that might not have the funds for SROs, so there are issues at the state level that need to be addressed.

Lt. Johnson indicated that there should be more SROs added to the school He said there has already been a request for another SRO for next year (2018-19 school year). At the more recent public meeting, Dr. Bourff indicated that several SROs could possibly be added next year. He indicated that the district would only hire the right candidates for the role and that any new SROs would need to be trained before they could start. Budget would need to be found to cover any new hires.

Q: There was an incident at Fall Creak. Some parents indicated that the communication from the principal to the parents was vague. Who approved the wording? Is there a protocol for such messages when issues happen in the schools? Why was there not communication district wide on the issue?

Lt. Johnson stated that the emails sent out for the Fall Creak issue were crafted with input from the police and the HSE administration. Because there was an ongoing investigation and because they were still responding to the incident, some information needed to be restricted. There was pushback from the police chief to limit any communication.

Overall, it was indicated that communication needs to be better. One parent requested that more follow-up happen after such incidents to provide a more “warm and fuzzy” feeling to parents so that they know their kids are going to be safe at school.

Q: In another state, officers did some of their work at the schools. They used the school as an ‘office’. Could this be done at HSE with the Fishers police?

Lt. Johnson addressed this question. He stated that at one point, the officers did do this. At this time, however, the time spent in a roll call room or office by police officers is extremely low because most of the reports are done on the computers in their cars. They have shifted to a paperless system.

Having said that, there was also an indication that officers could possibly spend more time in the areas of schools beyond the traffic control that happens. Even having police cars sitting in the parking lots can help.

Another response to this question was by the Fishers High School Assistant Principal. He stated that there is a focus on “people over products”. This was related to spending money for solutions whether it be hiring more SROs or buying metal detectors. The idea is that there are a lot of things you can do that don’t cost, and that can be done with what is already within the schools. Having police park in the school lots was one example. Another example that he presented was to have door checks done by students. Students with clipboards can check each of the doors on a regular basis during the school day to confirm that they are closed and locked. This not only helps confirm safety, it also teaches responsibility as well as engages students in the process.

Q: A lot of schools are election locations. Will this be revisited going forward?

Dr. Bourff indicated that, yes, this is a safety issue as is the traffic that such events cause. While a civics lesson would be lost, he doesn’t know how long schools will continue to be used for elections. With the last presidential election, they did close school for that day.

Dr. Beresford commented that extra security protocols happen on the election days. Additionally, three HSE schools have already been removed from being used for elections. Those school locations were shifted to churches.

Q: Studies are coming out indicating kids are having an adverse reaction to the drills and ALICE.

This was stated by a person attending the meeting. The HSE administration indicated that they had not heard this and asked that any information on the topic be shared with them.

Q: Stigma Free is at the high schools. Will it be rolled out to the Junior Highs as well?

The response was that Stigma Free is at all schools. Stigma Free at the high schools was initiated by students. There are friend groups and such related to this. Additionally, the Guiding All Kids initiative is doing some of the same efforts. Social emotion needs are addressed as are kindness wells, mindfulness, and other things.

Dr. Beresford indicated that kids will be under stress their entire life. As such, they need to be taught how to manage life.

Q: Will teachers be given guns?

This question was addressed at both the meeting in March as well as the public meeting. Dr. Bourff indicated that this is very unlikely. Police officers and SROs are trained professionals. Not only are they trained to use guns, but they are also trained to handle high-stress situations. Training for police officers is updated regularly. Dr. Bourff indicated that expecting a teacher to effectively use a firearm without making a mistake in a high stress situation doesn’t make sense. Such situations are tough for police officers and SROs that go through regular training.

Conclusion

Dr. Bourff ended the meeting by asking if it would be good to get with the PTOs to provide training or workshops on what parents can do or communicate around this topic. He indicated that fact sheets could be created as could webinars that could be placed onto the school website. The March meeting was followed up with a larger public meeting, and there were indicates that additional communication would continue to occur.

Overall, HSE schools are considered ahead of the curve on what they have done regarding securing the safety of the students and teachers. Even so, the administration has indicated that this is an area where ongoing improvements will continue to address the ever-evolving issues that surround keeping kids safe.

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Up, Up, and Away…. School Tax Increases Continue After Major Referendum

In 2016 a referendum was passed for Hamilton Southeastern Schools, so it was not surprise to see an increase in property taxes for 2017. In fact, taxes increased by 11.23% from 2016 to 2017 as a result of the referendum. What might surprise you is that tax increases didn’t stop in 2017 with the big referendum. In 2018, the tax rate has increased again by almost another percentage point to a total rate of 1.274.

What should raise a few eyebrows on this continued upward trend for taxes is the fact that the Indiana state government also made changes to school fund allocations recently. The state changes adjusted school allocations so that they would be more balanced. In the case of HSE Schools, this meant that the per student funding increased. The result was more state dollars were coming to our schools.

The net is that the HSE School coffers in 2017 benefited by more tax dollars at both the state and local levels. As the school board continues to increase taxes through referendums, you should be watching and asking why that is needed as well as watching how the millions of additional dollars are being spent. After all, in 2016 the HSE community was told that 100s of staff members could be laid off if a referendum wasn’t passed. In 2017, after passing the referendum, an unplanned multi-million dollar renovation to the administration building was approved and moved to the front of the capital improvements list. That’s a big change in a very short time.

Spending in Our Schools: Hamilton Southeastern

At the October 26th HSE School board meeting, yet another bond was approved. As an outsider looking into the process of decisions being made by both our schools and our local city officials, it seems scary and concerning the amount of money that is continually approved that comes from the taxpayers – that comes from us. In seeing it from the outside, it looks like we, the community, are being nickeled and dimed for a lot of money. It is easy to overlook this because the money appears to be going to our schools; however, that would be a bit fiscally irresponsible.

Within HSE this year alone, there was a referendum passed, a ten million dollar bond, and most recently a $5.5 million bond as well. This is on top of the property taxes we are already paying that go to the city and then partially come back to our schools as well. For those living in Fishers, there is the additional move to bump up the tax rate as well as the new $25 wheel tax.

While each of these individually don’t seem like much, when a person starts watching and listening, it can become concerning that large amounts of money are being shifted around without a lot of oversight by the community.

The question becomes – is this an issue?

In many cases, the answers I’ve gotten when asking questions around school and city financials have made sense. For example, with what was described as an annual $10 million dollar bond the school does, there  is no increase in taxes to the community because at the same time the new bond is starting, an old bond is ending. The net result is that the pull from the community wallets remains the same. With the $5.5 million dollars that was approved at the October 26th meeting (2016), the money will be covered by refinancing existing debt at a lower interest rate. As such, your money that would have been used to pay interest on school debt will be redirected to pay this $5.5 million resulting again in no increase in taxes to the community, but rather just shifting where the money they were already taking will go.

When asked why the school system couldn’t simply reduce the burden to the community instead of keeping the savings, the answer was that no new increase was happening. While this didn’t really answer the question of reducing the tax burden, an additional comment was made that by retaining the money, the school system is able to fund tasks earlier. Spending that was planned to would occur in 2017 could now be done in 2016. This would open up more budget dollars in 2017.

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