AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin Independent School District officials project they will need more than 100 officers to comply with a new law requiring an armed officer or employee on every campus.
Superintendent Matias Segura said on Monday the plan would cost approximately $9 million.
The bill funding formula would only provide an estimated $2.5 million to the district from the state, according to AISD officials.
The district could also receive a grant through the Texas Education Agency to help meet school safety standards.
“$40,000 for one of our largest schools, which wouldn’t even cover the cost of the salary much less all the other pieces,” said Trustee David Kaufmann during a board meeting on August 10. “This is an unfunded mandate.”
Austin ISD initially said in July the district posted jobs for up to 70 more officers. AISD Police Chief Wayne Sneed said Monday the number of officers balloons to 109 when you consider supervisors and support staff for the added officers.
“Post-COVID it’s been challenging. We are not the only police department struggling to find people,” Sneed said.
House Bill 3 takes effect on Sept. 1.
The law allows for school boards to claim a good cause exemption if the district can’t find the funding or personnel to comply with the law, but the district must come up with an alternative plan.
The alternative plan could include using school marshals, which are school employees who are armed and trained to protect students from intruders.
Austin ISD trustees discussed how the district will approach the new rule during a school board meeting on August 10.
“There is nothing in the bill that says all of these people need to be in place by x date,” Chief Governmental Relations and Board Services officer Jacob Reach said during the meeting.
Austin ISD’s police department employs more than 80 officers for its 116 schools and has a crisis intervention team responding to mental health crises on campuses.
The department also has an extended 16-week training where officers are evaluated and could be released if the district finds they are not a good fit.
“We’ve had officers not make it,” Sneed said.
Trustees, including Board Vice President Kevin Foster, expressed concern over maintaining the level of training despite the looming deadline for compliance with HB 3.
“We are not perfect, but my laypersons’ estimation is that we are in balance and that we are being asked to comply with a bad law that will throw us off balance,” Foster said.
“I would fully expect that we move with all deliberate speed, which is to say that we are hiring folks with the right disposition and that we are in no way sacrificing any of our training.”
Other school district leaders across the state have said they will have trouble complying with the new rules because of funding and a lack of personnel, including Dallas ISD and Hays CISD.
In a thread of posts on social media, Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said, “The Texas Legislature also gives school districts $15,000 per campus to pay for armed security officers that cost us with salaries and benefits more than $80K.”
The original version of House Bill 3, authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, proposed increasing the school safety allotment by $90 per student.
But, after back and forth with the Senate, lawmakers approved a plan to increase the per-pupil safety funding by 28 cents, meaning under the new law districts would get $10 per student instead of $9.72.
The plan also gave districts $15,000 per campus to spend on officers or any other safety enhancements. Some districts received grants from the Texas Education Agency.
Jarrell ISD Superintendent Dr. Toni Hicks told KXAN on August 1 the district would comply with the law on the first day of school by hiring armed security guards but said the state funding would not ultimately cover the cost of required security upgrades and hiring and training of new officers.
“It’s not even a drop in the bucket,” Dr. Hicks said.