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A state senator has introduced a bill that would allow school districts to devise safety plans and collect more in property taxes to fund them.

Sen. Donald Schaible, R-Mott, is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 2052. The bill would allow a school board to create a school safety plan, as well as maintain a "school safety plan fund." The plan must be approved by a majority of voters in a regular or special school district election and it would be reauthorized every five years.

During a hearing on the bill before the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, Schaible told lawmakers he introduced the bill so that school districts and school boards, as well as the public, can be involved in safety discussions.

"This is just one tool for safety," he said.

The bill would allow districts to assess five mills for the school safety plan, which would be deposited into a special fund. The additional property taxes wouldn't be associated with the restrictions in the K-12 funding formula.

School safety plans would be tailored to each individual district's needs and could include covering the cost of hiring a school resource officer, installing security cameras or contracting with a clinical psychologist.

The heads of several educational groups gave testimony in support of the bill, including North Dakota United, the North Dakota Council of Education Leaders, North Dakota Small Organized Schools and the North Dakota School Boards Association.

Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United, said one concern the union is hearing from teachers is a lack of resources to support students coming to school with behavioral health needs.

Aimee Copas, executive director of NDCEL, also said the bill that helps address "significant mental and behavioral health concerns that exist and have a direct impact on school safety."

"There’s no silver bullet," Copas said. "In reality, neither arming school staff with guns, placing SROs in every building or any other silver bullet approach helps solve that underlying safety issue."

Copas said she would like to see a caveat to the bill to include a "standard minimum" amount of money school districts could collect, because for some smaller districts, five mills isn’t a lot of money.

Donnell Preskey, executive director of the North Dakota Sheriffs and Deputies Association, said the association also supports the bill and enabling the use of funds to enhance school safety, as well as intervention and prevention efforts, which calls for an increase in trained school resource officers.

Preskey told lawmakers that, at the end of last school year, there were 53 SROs in North Dakota, only eight of which serve in rural schools in the state.

The bill's co-sponsors are Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, Sen. David Rust, R-Tioga, Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, and Rep. Pat Heinert, R-Bismarck.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter