Parent asks LHISD to consider marshals

By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill school trustees were asked by a parent Monday to improve school security by placing a law enforcement officer at each campus or training employees as law enforcement officers so they could provide an armed response in case of an attack.

During the public comments portion of Monday’s school board meeting, Melanie Kriewaldt-Roth asked trustees to consider supporting proposed legislation (HB 1009) that would allow school districts to provide law enforcement training to some school employees so that they may serve as licensed law enforcement officers or School Marshals.

Under the Protection of Texas Children Act, a proposal by State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, School Marshals would receive 80 hours of training developed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) that would include mental health evaluation, active shooter and emergency situation training, as well as firearms proficiency. The marshals, who would be known only to the school principal and local law enforcement authorities, would be authorized to act in response to an active shooter or other immediate life-threatening situations on school property. If finally passed, the school marshal program would be optional for school districts.

“We can’t ignore the reality of this,” said Mrs. Kriewaldt-Roth. “If we don’t make the appropriate response to threats, we’ll find ourselves acting irresponsibly.”

She said she has spoken to many local parents since the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and their response to the idea has been positive.

“I don’t think it’s premature for the Board to start this discussion,” she told The Independent following the meeting.  “The bill may or may not become law, but we as a local community need to respond the way we see fit. My comments to the Board last night was my first attempt to raise the issue publicly.”

As common practice, Board members do not engage with citizens who speak during the public comments portion of the meetings.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Rob Hart told The Independent, “We are very confident in what we do to keep our kids safe and we have not felt a need for further measures. HB 1009 is simply a filed bill at this time. Many things can happen in the (legislative) process; too early to tell.”

“Nobody wants our children learning in a Wild West environment, but they do like the idea of a visible, known deterrent adding a significant layer of protection to the school,” Mrs. Kriewaldt-Roth said. “I believe that our community is the perfect candidate for such a program. House Bill 1009 dictates clear-thinking on the matter and maturely constructs a plan for implementation. Who better to provide an embedded, equal response to a deadly threat than a well-armed, well-trained, level-headed licensed school employee, or two, who spends seven hours a day five days a week in the presence of our children? Just makes good-old sense to me.”

In other business Monday, trustees heard a report on student performance on the STAAR tests given last spring in grades three through eight. Results of that test administration were only recently released by the state due to the lengthy process of setting passing standards.

Spring 2012 was the first administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. Curriculum Director Claudeane Braun told the Board that Liberty Hill students performed well above the state average and the average for Region 13 schools, and also scored higher than the six districts that compete with LHISD in District 8-3A.

Because the test is being phased in, passing standards were set lower for the first two years. By 2016, passing standards will increase in all testing categories, some by as much as 25 percentage points. In order to achieve at the higher levels and to surpass the expectations, the district developed performance objectives, which were adopted by the Board Monday. (Read more on this story and see the test results reported in last week’s edition.) 

  Also Monday, the Board heard from Laura Caswell, an LHISD resident who requested the district reconsider a $1.5 million purchase for new furniture for the new high school — a purchase that was made through a state Buy Board.

Ms. Caswell, an employee of Austin Business Furniture, said the district was paying too much for the product and asked trustees to resend the decision and open the process up for bids.

“I am particularly worried that the district may have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on this contract,” she said, suggesting that competitive bids were not taken before the purchase was awarded to Worthington Contract.

While the Board did not respond to Ms. Caswell on Monday, Hart told The Independent on Tuesday that bids are solicited through Buy Board.

“Buy Board is a service of TASB (Texas Association of School Boards) that we participate in regularly,” Hart said. “They act as a purchasing coop for school districts and they solicit bids from vendors for you (school districts), therefore it is bid out.

“Kirk Worthington is functioning as a consultant for us, hired by Huckabee (the school district’s architectural firm). He is the best in the business and the only one large enough to handle a project of this magnitude. By using Buy Board and Worthington we were able to get everything we wanted, have it delivered, assembled and quality controlled turn key and still came in $100,000 under budget.”

Also Monday, trustees appointed new members to the School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) and heard a report on the past year’s activities.

Those appointed Monday include Heather Williard, John Clark and Melissa Hightower.

The Board also approved a Shared Service Agreement with Austin ISD, which is administering the American Indian Education Program (AIEP). Hart said there are no costs to the district, but participation enables local American Indian students access to scholarship funds. He said 11 local students qualify for the program.

Following a 50-minute executive session, the Board unanimously approved a one-year contract extension for LHISD Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Jerry Vance. Contract extensions were also awarded to campus administrators and Central Office administrators.

Additionally, the Board accepted the resignations of Dr. Susan Haberer (fifth grade teacher), Chase McCoy (high school math teacher) and Traci Poynor (kindergarten teacher). Emily Menke was hired as a kindergarten teacher.

School architects presented an update on campus construction, which included news by Hart that the district will receive a land donation near the new high school campus that will improve the safety of CR 277. The road, which will provide an entrance to the school and its athletic facilities, will have a traffic light at its intersection with State Highway 29. The donation from The Jesus Community church, formerly known as Resurrection Life of Austin Inc., is two parcels for a combined total of .589 acre. Hart said the additional land will allow the district to “soften a turn” from CR 277 into the school property.

The Board also heard a report from high school Spanish teacher Jennifer Gonzales regarding a student summer trip to Spain and France. Students from Spanish and ASL classes will visit Barcelona, Spain, and Paris, France, during an eight-day trip in June. Students have been raising money individually to help pay for their own trip expenses.