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Resource Officer in Every School? Southeast Polk Community Discusses Security

ALTOONA, Iowa -- A concerned Southeast Polk parent has taken it upon himself to organize a meeting on school protection, and community leaders responded.

Ken Hodges says he's done waiting for the federal government to do something about school safety.

“I always get, I call it the ‘pat’ line, ‘if someone wants to do harm they're going to find a way’...and when you're dealing with 17 dead children that line doesn't work anymore,” said Hodges.

Hodges says he understands the issue is large and complex but wants to break off a piece the Southeast Polk School District can address.

“Why don't we separate the issues? What are we doing for school protection? and what are we doing for prevention?” he said.

One of Hodges ideas is to have a school resource officer, like the one who stopped the school shooting in Maryland, in every school.  While the middle and high school have a dedicated officer, seven elementary schools in the district do not. The city of Altoona crunched the numbers to find out how much it would cost for just their four elementary schools.

“We figured about a million dollars the first year and we're thinking about $850,000 the year after,” said Mayor Dean O’Connor.

Mayor O' Connor says without state or grant funding it would mean a tax increase of $1.50 per thousand dollars of taxable property.  He said that would be a tough sell for residents without school children.

“A holistic approach is that ‘I'm a citizen of this community and everybody matters and everything that happens matters’, and that's probably the direction that conversation should come from, because you need by in from everyone,” said O’Connor.

With Southeast Polk Schools in charge of their own security, Mayor O'Connor says it will be up to them to decide how to move forward. The district says it is always looking for ways to be better and it starts by looking at itself.

“What have we got, what can we do, or what do we currently do, and then take that and say OK how can we improve upon that?” said Associate Superintendent Joe Horton.

As with anything, making improvements to security infrastructure or adding additional staff costs money.  While the district believes it can be done if it has enough backing, budgets are always a concern.  State Representative Zach Nunn attended the meeting and talked about a bill which recently passed the house. House file 2441 would allow schools more flexibility on how to spend their dollars, including on security personnel.