Windham County police officers train to respond to an attack at Leland & Gray Union Middle & High School earlier this month. Photo by Kristopher Radder/Brattleboro Reformer
The House passed a $5 million proposal Wednesday to help schools across the state improve security, less than two months after police arrested a Vermont teen accused of plotting to shoot up Fair Haven Union High School.
The proposal was included in the capital budget adjustment bill, H.923, an update to the two-year package approved last year that funds infrastructure-related projects.
The legislation, which passed unanimously on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, increases the capital budget to $159.4 million — up about $12 million from last year’s.
The capital budget adjustment bill allots $4 million to fund the school safety improvement plan in fiscal year 2019. Gov. Phil Scott proposed the plan in a memo on Feb. 22, a week after police arrested 18-year-old Poultney resident Jack Sawyer in connection with the alleged Fair Haven shooting plot.
The remaining $1 million will come from existing federal grants the Department of Public Safety receives from the Department of Homeland Security, according to Rebecca Kelley, the governor’s spokesperson.
Under the grant-based plan, schools can apply for funding for security upgrades such as video monitoring, surveillance equipment, intercom systems, doors and locks. Schools could receive grants of up to $25,000, and would have to match the funding with district dollars.
“My understanding is that needs among schools vary, so the intent of the grants is to allow the schools flexibility to determine and apply for funds to address their individual needs,” Kelley said.
While most of the funding comes from the capital budget adjustment and would therefore be limited to infrastructure projects, Kelley said the federal dollars in the mix could be used for other purposes. Scott previously recommended hiring more school resource officers, for example.
In his memo to legislators last month, Scott called for $3 million to be made available in fiscal year 2018 and $2 million in the summer of fiscal year 2019 to fund school security grants that could be “deployed quickly.”
The administration is currently conducting safety assessments in schools throughout the state. Those assessments will likely be completed next week. “Given recent events, the governor thought the assessment was important to inform the state and local schools on where we might look to improve, as well as best practices,” Kelley said.
While H.923 incorporates Scott’s school safety plan, it did not include his proposal to spend $2.9 million to build a temporary forensic mental health facility for patients who enter the system via the courts.
The Department of Mental Health recommended building the 12-bed unit in the Northwest Regional Correctional Facility in Swanton and eventually replacing it with a larger facility. The administration has said the unit could ease immediate demands on Vermont’s emergency rooms and psychiatric facilities.
The capital budget bill proposes another initiative to expand the state’s capacity to treat those with mental health issues — allocating $2.5 million to replace the state’s secure residential facility in Middlesex, which provides aftercare to people who are ready to be discharged from a psychiatric hospital but still require support.
The proposal would allow the state to replace the Middlesex facility, which has only seven beds, with another with more availability, according to Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, chair of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions.