If a tax swap, that could give an additional $1.5 million in state funding to the district, is approved during a Saturday election, Superintendent Jeremy Glenn has said his No. 1 priority is to get additional security on every campus immediately.
“I’m happy with that,” said WISD parent Chris Bearden said. “We’ve had bomb threats and we’ve had other issues, where even at the north elementary school where my kids went, there was a bank robbery a block away just a couple years back. It’s scary to think of him running around and the SWAT team running around campus. Of course, you hear it on the news, of other people coming into a school, and that’s a rarity. But I would like for somebody to be in the school, whose sole purpose is to keep others safe.”
If voters approve the funds, district officials would use some of the additional funds to immediately add more security officers or partner with the Waxahachie Police Department to put police officers on each of 13 schools in September, Glenn said. The long-term goal is to get school resource officers or trained licensed police officers, hopefully from the city of Waxahachie, onto campuses. Those officers then might rotate campuses, Glenn said.
“We would be able to say we have some sort of security watching out for the best interest of our students,” Glenn said. “The advantage of having a Waxahachie police officer on our campuses is they are some of the best police officers, not only in the county, but in the state of Texas. Those guys are extremely well-trained and extremely professional.”
Currently, WISD has a couple of licensed, unarmed policemen on staff as well as additional security guards in the district, with three security officers going between the Ninth Grade Academy and Waxahachie High School, Glenn said. Each middle school campus has a security officer, and two more will soon be added to Finley Junior High following multiple bomb threats. Each school also has a double front entrance, that is buzz-in only and campuses also have cameras spread throughout buildings.
Residents who have heard the district’s security plan at board meetings have asked why this kind of security hasn’t happened in the past.
One thing Glenn said people should realize is Waxahachie used to have “neighborhood schools,” like Northside Elementary and Marvin Elementary located in residential areas. Then, WISD has schools like Dunaway, which is isolated on U.S. Highway 77, and Shackleford, which is isolated in the northern part of the district, Glenn said.
“When you begin to look overall at our district, Waxahachie has really changed,” Glenn said. “As it’s grown, our ability to secure our own school district has become increasingly more difficult.”
As a father, who just joined the district in December and who has children at various campuses in WISD, Glenn said what stood out to him the most was how vulnerable the elementary campuses seemed to be.
“I didn’t see a presence of security and police officers, and as a dad and with obvious attention with regards to safety in schools, that is extremely important to parents,” Glenn said. “As a father coming in, it’s important to me that when I’m dropping my kids off, I know that their safety is taken care of first and foremost. Above all else, I want to know my kids are safe and they’re protected when I drop them off.”
Yet, one junior high campus has seen the most number of school-wide threats.
In 2014, WISD faced five bomb threats and one text message threat to “shoot up” a school. Most of the incidents occurred in the spring semester, but the latest threat occurred at Finley Junior High. Finley has faced four bomb threats on Feb. 26, Feb. 27, May 28 and Thursday, while the Ninth Grade Academy faced one on March 21. The text message threat was directed at Waxahachie High School on May 28.
Bearden experienced multiple bomb threats while he was in college, and teachers got to a point where they said if students wanted to leave, they could. Otherwise, they were going to continue with the daily lesson, he said.
“When kids are involved, it’s much different,” Bearden said. “The first time it happened, I drove to where they were being held and they had been releasing them. I trust the administrators, and I really love David Truitt (WISD’s deputy superintendent), and it meant a lot to me that he was there, but you want to put your hands on your kids as soon as possible. That’s what I wanted to do, was get them out of there.”
Bearden has a wife, who works at Shackleford Elementary, and three daughters in the school district. Two of those daughters are at Finley Junior High this year, one of which went through the three threats in the spring semester. Bearden is also a volunteer for Partners in Education and the president of the Education Foundation, both of which focus on making the schools better for children.
“My wife hears real quickly from other staff and educators when something happens, so she texted me immediately. We get news pretty quickly, and yet she was terrified,” Bearden said about the first threat at Finley. “What can you do except pray, you know? It’s frustrating and a helpless feeling to know there’s not one thing you can do in that moment.”
Bearden said his daughter didn’t seem scared by the threats, but became more annoyed the more they occurred. Glenn said he’s heard similar statements from other parents about making sure their children were safe and education wasn’t being disrupted.
“We have to answer the question, are we doing everything we can to make sure our students are protected?” Glenn said. “With limited resources, it’s hard to make that investment. But this is an opportunity, with these additional funds, to come back in and invest not only in additional security officers, but additional surveillance and recording [equipment] too, to make sure we have good video coverage of incidents that might take place. We’re going to make sure we’re good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. It’s going to be well thought out. We don’t know if the tax swap will pass at this time, but we’ll put an interim plan in place until we can convene on how best to utilize those funds and how to move forward.”
Election Day for the tax swap is Saturday, and voting is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Marvin Elementary on Brown Street.