Conroe ISD could add 46 police officers within two years
Less than a month after a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, located about 70 miles south of Montgomery County, officials with the Conroe Independent School District are considering a plan to add 46 officers to the district’s police department over the next two years.
The proposed plan came days after Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott’s called on school districts across the state to address school safety. The renewed calls for school safety arose after the May 18 incident where a 17-year-old Santa Fe High School student is alleged to have killed 10 people and injured another 13 people.
The new group of officers, if approved, could cost the district a total of $3.2 million. The cost is estimated to cover the funding of not only the personnel, but also extra equipment, two leadership positions at a total cost of $250,000, training and three new vehicles, according to preliminary district estimates.
The safety and security plan was addressed by Conroe ISD Chief Financial Officer Darrin Rice at a June 5 district board meeting during a preliminary budget workshop. The goal is to have one police officer at each campus, according to district officials.
For personnel only, the district would pay $2.5 million for the additional 46 police officers, $301,300 for the new equipment, roughly $9,000 for training and $165,000 for three vehicles. The total cost in the safety and security budget is not set in stone, as everything could change throughout the summer, district officials added.
Conroe ISD Superintendent Dr. Curtis Null said the conversation about adding police officers is not a new issue, and he explained the thought of upgrading security started years ago when school safety began to become more of a priority.
“We’ve asked (Chief William Harness) and (Sgt. Matt Blakelock) to go back and look at what would be the cost associated with increasing the number of police officers in the district to allow us to have officers at every campus,” Null said.
On May 30, Abbott unveiled his school safety plan with 40 recommendations, including the need to make schools safer by “immediately (increasing) law enforcement presence at schools.”
The CISD police department currently has 62 police officers who are spread across 61 campuses in a 348-square-mile area, which encompasses The Woodlands, Shenandoah, Oak Ridge North and Conroe. The district is growing, with two new campuses by the beginning of the upcoming school year and two others by the beginning of the 2019 school year, making the new total 65 schools in the district.
Under the district’s plan, the addition of the 46 new police officers would be spread over the next two years, with 15 to 20 officers joining the department each year, Harness said.
Rice said he believes the CISD Board of Trustees has done a good job in protecting the students of the district.
“One thing you have do is provide a safe and secure place for students to go to school, so that the constituents know that their kids are safe in our buildings,” Rice said. “I think our board has done a really good job of that. Currently, with all of our vestibules that we’ve (constructed) in our schools, (potential intruders) have to go through several layers before to get into the school. We’ve done a lot of that up front.”
As far as adding police officers at every school, Rice said, “that’s going to really be a board decision.”
“They asked for the information,” Rice said. “$3.2 million is a lot of money and I think they will make the best decision they based off receiving that information.”
Conroe ISD Board of Trustees President Melanie Bush said she’d love to see an officer on every campus, “as well “as a (Licensed Professional Counselor) on every high school and junior high campus.”
“The issues we are facing (are) societal issues that manifest themselves on the school campus,” Bush said. “Hurting people hurt people. It’s a fact. So we need to work with our families and other organizations on our community to help those that are hurting. We need to work to identify and get treatment for mental illnesses at a younger age.”
Trustee Scott Moore said he believed the district needed to add more police officers to the district.
“How many officers and what we can afford is still under discussion,” Moore said in regards to the June 5 budget workshop. “We were only presented with the estimate for 46 new officers last week. We have not had a chance to fully explore that, or any other option.”
Moore said student safety was of the utmost priority for the district.
“We want to do anything we possibly can to protect every single person in our facilities,” Moore said. I think additional police officers is a piece of that. I don’t think it’s the only piece. Whatever we decide to do will be done with the best interest of our students, faculty and staff in mind while continuing to be the trustworthy stewards of our resources and the taxpayers’ money.”
Trustees Datren Williams and Scott Kidd declined to comment on the issue due to the district budget discussions being in such an early stage.
During the budget workshop, Bush said that having metal detectors at every door was not a realistic option due to funding and not enough staff on hand.
Moore echoed Bush’s statement, saying the detectors were too expensive.
“There are dozens of exterior doors,” Moore said. “To purchase metal detectors for each door and to pay security personnel to staff those devices is cost prohibitive. The idea of metal detectors is not ‘off the table.’ We have to examine every available option and determine which one provides the best use of tax payer money while providing the highest level of security to our students and staff.”