By Candace Barczyk
Voters in the Vermilion Local School District will see a five-year, .68-mill levy on the November 6 ballot for safety and security in the district. The levy, if approved, would generate $300,000 a year, and would cost $24 a year for every $100,000 of property valuation. The levy is Issue 13 in Lorain County, and Issue 6 in Erie County.
According to Vermilion Levy Chairman Shelly Innes, discussions of safety and security issues in the Vermilion Schools began after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. “We held a community forum, and about 20 people came. The board at that time began talking about how to make our schools safer. However, any money going for that was not going into the classroom. (Former board member) Dave Rice started working with Senator Gayle Manning and Senator Randy Gardner, and he went to Columbus to get the state to allow school districts to use levy money for safety and security. We’ve had this in place now for five years. It was the kind of thing where we would sit and wait, sit and wait. Parkland was the tipping point. This time, we had this in place, and we said we are no longer going to sit and wait. Now is the time to do something.”
After the shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, the Vermilion Schools held another forum, but this time, almost 250 community members, parents, students, and teachers were in attendance. The basis for what residents and students wanted to see from the district came from that forum. “We have to be proactive,” said Innes. “We can’t sit and wait.”
The district has long had a crisis plan but took it a step further. “We don’t want to build fences around our schools. We don’t want to cut the schools off from people. Our schools are safe, but we can always do more,” said Innes. From that crisis plan, Innes said the district came up with items to achieve its safety goals, and inevitably came up with the levy amount. “It’s not just a shot in the dark,” she said.
If the levy is approved, the district’s plan is four-fold: add a second School Resource Officer, hire a mental health counselor, train staff to identify social and emotional problems in students, and provide better and more advanced school security equipment such as systems and cameras.
Innes said the addition of a second school resource officer is crucial. “It offers a quicker response time and someone who the students trust and can share things with.” She said students in the district have this strong bond with current SRO Brian Beckwith. In light of the mental health issues affiliated with other school shooting across the country, Innes stated that the addition of a mental health counselor is something the district would do if the levy were approved. She added that staff training to look for and identify social and emotional student issues would go hand-in-hand with that. And finally, the district would look at better school cameras with a broader coverage. She said the district is also eyeing a temporary badge system whereby visitors would have a badge that would only be good for a certain period. It would turn red when it expires.
“The big thing about this levy is that it is restricted to safety and security only. It doesn’t go into some big pot of money. It’s not going to buy a bus. The Ohio Revised Code is very specific about what money can be used for. That’s why we did all of this and got to this point.”
Those in the public who are interested in being a part of the levy effort are invited to the committee’s next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. at Vermilion High School (use the main entrance). The committee has just begun its PR effort. Signs will go up after Oct. 6, and members of the committee will be visiting groups and organizations around the community. “It’s important to keep children safe,” said Innes. “The bottom line is if children don’t feel safe, they’re not going to learn.” Co-chairing the committee with Innes is businessman and community member Cliff German. For more information, the levy committee has a Facebook page, VLSD Safety and Security Levy.