October 2019 The Carmel SOS Safety for Our Students volunteers have been fervently working on behalf of the Carmel Clay School (CCS) district to get their message out about the school safety referendum that will be included on the upcoming ballot this November. We asked the PAC organizers, Laura Jarred and Nicki McNally, to dispel some of the “myths” and share the facts regarding this school safety referendum and explain why they are asking for your votes. What Is a School Safety Referendum? In the 2019 legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly passed Senate Bill 127, allowing school corporations to seek property tax referendums for school safety initiatives. This is a new type of referendum. Due to increasing incidents of school violence across the country and even in Hamilton County, along with alarming upward trends of students with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, CCS feels it is imperative to add additional safety and mental health layers to its current safety programs. The school safety referendum is a property tax referendum that will fund three types of safety initiatives in CCS over eight years. Those initiatives are a school resource officer (SRO) in every school, increased mental health services and professional development. Why Is a School Safety Referendum Needed? CCS partners with the Carmel Police Department to hire SROs. Currently, CCS middle and elementary schools do not have dedicated full-time SROs assigned. Three out of the seven districts’ SROs are shared between 14 schools and 11,000 students. The other four SROs are assigned to the high school, where they serve over 5,000 students. “As parents, we along with the school administrators find that ratio to be unacceptable,” McNally said. “Most people don’t realize that is our current situation. Other surrounding school districts have rectified the same issues, but we haven’t been able to fix the issues because we haven’t had a source of funding for the solutions.” Currently, if a situation were to occur at one of the middle schools, the SRO may not be present because he or she may be at one of the elementary schools. “This referendum is more than putting officers in schools to prevent violence,” McNally said. “The SROs are also mentors to the students. You may have heard about the ‘triad model’ for SROs: officer, mentor and teacher. The SROs actually have a curriculum that they've developed over the years and teach all of the drills to the students. They talk about body safety, and they work with the students on a daily basis.” McNally continued, “They are also an additional set of eyes and ears to help identify students that are in need or are at risk and get them the services that they might need. The mental health piece of the referendum also helps to get in front of school violence before it occurs by adding this other layer of services for the students. That's the whole goal of this referendum is to get in front of the violence before it ever occurs and to get these kids into a healthier state so that we don't ever end up being the next Sandy Hook or the next Parkland.” If the referendum passes in November, CCS will raise the salaries of current social workers to be competitive with area districts. The referendum will also provide funding for additional school counselors and/or school social workers. CCS will contract with local providers to have mental health therapists available in every school. Parents of students in need of support can choose these services. This initiative is designed to eliminate barriers to mental health services, support families and wrap resources around students in need of assistance. “To have mental health therapists come in—who are contracted through the hospitals—on-site at the schools so that the kids have easy access to get the help that they need and they don't have to miss their appointments because their parents can't get off of work is priceless,” Jarred emphasized. “They will have immediate access at their fingertips if they ever need mental health services.” According to a Secret Service study, 93% of school attackers displayed concerning behaviors prior to an attack and 78% presented suicidal ideation. Better access to mental health programs helps identify potentially violent students before they harm themselves or others. What Does It Provide the Schools if Passed? Under the referendum, CCS would add 11 more school resource officers in addition to the seven currently employed by the district. In addition, programs addressing mental illness for students and staff will be considered to improve school safety and reduce violence. The referendum would allow CCS to add mental health programs for students through contracted health services with outside partners, increase social worker pay and add social workers and/or school counselors. It would also provide ongoing professional development for staff, students and the community to improve safety and reduce violence. The extra revenue would generate about $5 million per year over the eight-year referendum for CCS. What Is the Cost to the Taxpayer? The referendum would increase taxes by 5 cents for every $100 of assessed value. For example, property taxes on a $250,000 home would increase by $65 per year, $146 per year for a $500,000 home, and property taxes on a $750,000 home would increase by $232 annually. Jarred added, “On a $750,000 home, that breaks down to $20 per month. People are looking at that gigantic number [$5 million over the next eight years] and think the taxes are going to go through the ceiling. It’s important that people understand the true cost to the taxpayer and the true cost of not having this referendum. You can’t put a price on lives.” Why Should the Carmel Community Support the Referendum? “Everybody loves Carmel,” McNally said. “People think it's a great place to live, and we win all of these awards, but if any violent events occurred, it would destroy not only the reputation of the community, but it destroys the people in the community too. It doesn’t just hurt the people directly involved; it reverberates through the entire community. We have to put these measures in place so that our kids are protected and our community as a whole is protected. Safe schools are strong schools, and strong schools are the foundation of any strong community. And I think whether you have kids in school or not, you should be supportive of that.” If the voters approve the referendum, changes could go into effect as early as January 2020. For more information about the School Safety Referendum or to donate to Carmel SOS, visit carmelsos.org.