House Bill 3 mandates armed guards on Texas campuses. Why some Fort Worth schools struggle to comply
Lawmakers entered the latest legislative session with demands to improve school safety after a shooting in Uvalde left 21 dead and 17 injured — the deadliest in the history of Texas.
What resulted is House Bill 3, which requires an armed guard at every public and open enrollment charter school in the state, among other mandates. Some districts and charter networks are prepared to meet a Sept. 1 deadline. Others, like Fort Worth ISD, requested an exemption from the state due to lack of funds to meet the requirements.
The law provides for an additional $15,000 to every campus and increases the average daily attendance allotment by $10 per student to cover costs.
School districts can ask the state for a good cause exemption as they try to meet the mandates but fall short of the September deadline. However, school board trustees have to pass a resolution to receive the exemption.
In a district with as many campuses as the Fort Worth ISD has, costs add up quickly. Deputy Superintendent Karen Molinar said the district lacks about $8.3 million in funding to meet the mandates of the bill. The district has 21 high schools, 26 middle schools, 16 alternative schools and 80 elementary schools.
Fort Worth ISD cost projection
Fort Worth ISD needs 77 additional SROs to be in compliance with House Bill 3. Each SRO costs an average of $108,404.77 from Fort Worth police. That cost totals around $8.3 million.
The district will receive $15,000 for 139 campuses totaling $2,085,000.
The projected additional amount the district will receive for its enrollment is $635,436.
In total, the district will receive a projected $2.7 million.
Which means, Fort Worth ISD has to come up with $5.6 million to cover the additional costs of the law’s mandates.
The city will pay for half of the SROs, splitting the cost to around $2.8 million per entity.
During a presentation to the school board, Molinar said the district currently had 47 school resource officers from a combination of Fort Worth and Benbrook police departments. At some campuses, enrollment is high enough to warrant two officers — such as large high schools.
The district still has to staff 77 campuses with officers to be in compliance, Molinar told the board. To help cover the deficit, 5% percent of graduating police officers from the city’s police academy will become district school resource officers, thanks to an agreement with the city.
The city also will help pay part of the costs to employ officers on remaining campuses, Molinar said.
Fort Worth Police Deputy Chief Mark Barthen said in a written statement the immediate impact on the department is minor and future impact depends on what the districts decide.
“For instance, Fort Worth ISD so far wants to staff all of their schools with Fort Worth PD officers — this will take several years for us to be able to accommodate them since we will need to recruit, hire and train those additional officers,” Barthen said. “On the other hand, Northwest ISD and Keller ISD have chosen to use FWPD in their middle schools and high schools as usual, but they are going a different route for their elementary school campuses.”
Other schools may also consider similarly partnering with third party contractors other than the police.
To determine which schools have the highest need, the district gathered data on crime rates in the area immediately surrounding campuses. During the board meeting, Molinar used the Amon Carter-Riverside pyramid as an example. Within a two-mile radius of the schools, between May 1 and May 26, there were 135 records of police activity.
“We’re averaging about three holds per week because of safety issues happening, police activity in the community around the schools,” Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Angélica Ramsey said at a town hall with state Rep. Ramon Romero.
How are charters managing?
At Chapel Hill Academy, a Lena Pope charter school, the campus is fundraising to be able to afford to meet the demands of the new law.
Chief Advancement Officer Cathy R. Sheffield said once the bill passed, “we immediately realized that we had not budgeted for some of the enhanced security requirements that were going to be required by schools.”
The campus estimates it needs to raise about $253,000 to meet the legislative mandate, Sheffield said.
The nonprofit organization had to look into whether it could reallocate funds in its budget or find other ways to make ends meet.
Chapel Hill Academy has already enhanced some safety areas on campus, such as by adding shatterproof film on windows and having behavioral analyst specialists on campus.
Although schools received some funds, Sheffield said, it’s unfortunate they did not receive more.
“We don’t know that more will not be coming. But at this point in time, we believe we’ve received everything that we will be receiving,” she said. “We agree that our schools need to be saved. I don’t know that there’s anybody who says we shouldn’t be doing these added enhancements.”
At his town hall, Romero said it’s possible that schools can get more funding when lawmakers go back for a special session in October.
Superintendent and CEO of IDEA schools Jeff Cottrill said the campuses already have enhanced security measures with efforts like unarmed guards and fenced perimeters around the schools.
“IDEA has continued with a very multi-layered, proactive approach to security measures that enhance the safety and security, and the support of all of our students and staff,” Cottrill said in response to the new law. “Because, quite frankly, nothing is more important than making sure that our scholars and our staff are served in safe environments.”
Last school year, IDEA partnered with different law enforcement agencies or third-party contractors to ensure unarmed police officers or security guards were at every campus, Corrtill said. The team at IDEA monitored the bill, and once it became likely campuses would be required to have an armed guard on campus, leadership started making their plan.
Schools can partner with both local law enforcement agencies and security contractors, Cottrill said. IDEA is using a mix of both.
Because IDEA already had unarmed guards on all campuses, it is focused on paying for upgrades to armed guards in order to meet the requirement from the state.
“In many ways, that money that we received from the Legislature was actually welcomed in the fact that this was already an expense that we prioritized to ensure the safety of our scholars and staff,” Cottrill said. “We actually didn’t view it as anything more than a welcomed funding source from the state.”
How are smaller school districts faring?
The Report reached out to all 12 Fort Worth public school districts to ask how they will meet the mandates of the new law, specifically an armed security guard at each campus.
Of those that replied by deadline, only Northwest ISD responded that the district will meet the Sept. 1 deadline. The district will contract with security companies.
A White Settlement ISD spokesperson said the district still has to hire five additional officers.
Both Eagle Mountain-Saginaw and Lake Worth ISD will require an extension to meet the mandates. HEB ISD trustees suspended asking for the extension until the superintendent meets with district staff to try to meet the minimum standards.
Reporter Dang Le contributed to this story.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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