By Melanie Williamson
During the Monday, October 1, city council meeting, Council president Steve Herron invited Vermilion Local Schools District Superintendent Phil Pempin up to address the board regarding the proposed safety and security levy that will be on the November ballot. Pempin stated that the proposed levy will mean approximately $2 per month per $100,000 of home value in additional taxes for residents. He also explained that by state law all the money raised through this levy will only be used for safety and security measures.
Pempin shared with council that back in March, following the Parkland school shooting, they held a community forum to hear the concerns of parents, students, and members of the community. From that forum, they created a list of security measures they would like to implement, and the district received full support from the roughly 200 people who attended to forum to propose a levy as a means of paying for the desired changes. Pempin explained that the levy will be used in three areas: hiring an additional school resource officer (SRO) , hiring a mental health therapist, and upgrading the security system.
In explaining the three areas the district intends the levy money to go to, Pempin asserted that the district currently has one school resource officer, Officer Brian Beckwith, who provides both enhancement and deterrent. On one hand, he is developing positive relationships with the students that enhances the overall school environment, and on the other hand, having an officer in the schools acts as a deterrent.
Councilwoman Barb Brady asked if the SRO is always at the high school. Superintendent Pempin responded that he divides his time between all three buildings and helps with morning traffic, so having a second SRO would be highly beneficial.
Councilwoman-at-Large Monica Stark shared that she was at the March forum and stated that it was amazing. She explained that they were split into small groups to discuss their concerns and what they wanted to see changed, and brought back together as a large group to share their ideas. “It was neat to have been part of that group and see this all come together.” Council president Steve Herron stated that it is important to know that “every penny” of the levy goes to safety only. Councilman John Gabriel stated that he appreciated the fact that mental health was being included in the proposed changes. He went on to say that in looking at past events, “mental health is always part of it; there is a history of problems. Catching problem behavior early is essential.” Superintendent Pempin responded that educators are seeing a lot more issues with students than they have seen in the past. While Vermilion already has more counselors than most districts their size, having someone specifically trained in mental health will help tremendously.