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Health

School board seeks diverse funding for security, mental health initiatives

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education voted this week not to support Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's opposition to a state bill that would use video lottery proceeds for security and health services at schools.

Board members then adopted a separate measure supporting the state bill — providing its revenue can be gained from more stable sources.

House Bill 138 was crafted by Republican Del. Nic Kipke of Pasedena at the request on the Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold's administration.

The proposal is seeking to expand access to money that's placed in the state's Education Trust Fund. Currently, video lottery proceeds in the fund can be used for such purposes as constructing school buildings and funding capital projects at community colleges.

Kipke's measure would allow the trust fund's proceeds to also be used for security personnel and equipment, as well as mental health services at public elementary and secondary schools.

The discussion comes amid heightened concern over school security after last month's fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Days after the attack, Anne Arundel school officials responded to threats on a Facebook posting that five of its schools would be targets of a shooting. Though the threats were eventually declared unfounded by law enforcement officials, Anne Arundel County government, which provides school resource officers, increased police presence in the school system.

Maxwell said that while he doesn't oppose security or mental health services funding increases at public schools, "the funding sources is the issue that I have."

"This would pay for local services, as I read this legislation, with state dollars that are dedicated … to educational services, not to school security and not to mental health services."

The school board voted 6-1 against Maxwell's recommendation to oppose the bill. Board member Deborah Ritchie voted to support the superintendent's stance; member Kevin Jackson abstained. Board member Teresa Milio Birge was not present for the vote.

Ritchie suggested she wasn't sure tapping the video lottery money for new purposes was the best plan to benefit students.

"Before we jump to doing all these things, I would hope that we've done some research and some studying to figure out ... what's going to truly impact students," Ritchie said. "What's happened in our country is a tragedy, but we don't help that tragedy any by hurrying up and putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage."

Yet after that vote, board member Stacy Korbelak offered an alternative plan that ultimately gained the board's support — and sought to address some of Maxwell's concerns.

Korbelak's measure essentially called for changing the name of the state bill to "Security and Mental Health Services at Public Schools" — and more importantly called for it suggest other sustainable sources, besides video lottery revenue, to fund those measures.

"I think we're trying to make sure it doesn't get completely trashed," Korbelak said. "We want security and mental health services to be funded."

An amendment suggested by Ritchie calls for the measure to include input from local school systems and mental health departments.

Board President Andrew Pruski said identifying sources other than gambling revenue is important to make sure the resources don't fluctuate, as lottery revenue potentially could.

"Anyone can have a video lottery terminal fund in every state. But if you have something that depends on gambling, that could change anytime," Pruski said.

"If I take something from the general fund, it's possible that it's going to be more static," he said. "The last thing you want is to promise people more mental health services and more student resource officers in buildings and all of a sudden those funds are removed."

Kipke's bill was introduced Jan. 17 in Annapolis and has been assigned to the House Ways and Means committee. A hearing on the measure is scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 12, according to the General Assembly website.

jburris@baltsun.com

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