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Butler County Schools Seek Levy Funds For Mental Health, Safety And Security

Bill Rinehart
Hamilton City Schools already employ five school resource officers with another two coming on later this year. With the levy, the district could hire another six.

Five local school districts in Butler County are asking voters to approve a levy to pay for extra security and mental health resources. The Butler County Educational Service Center (ESC) is putting the 1.5 mill, 10-year levy on the November ballot. The levy would add about $53 to every $100,000 of property value.

Earlier this year, Ohio lawmakers approved SB 226, which allows an ESC to create a levy "exclusively for school safety and security and mental health services."

Five of the 10 districts served by the Butler County ESC -- New Miami, Edgewood, Fairfield, Hamilton, and Monroe Local Schools -- opted in for the levy. The other five districts passed.

New Miami Local School Superintendent Rhonda Parker says the levy would pay for some physical security improvements and some intangible improvements. "The mental health piece is so necessary," she says. "That is the top priority for me with my students. We have counselors and we have an outside counseling source, but there is a gap between who can be served and who cannot. I need everyone to be able to be served in my district." 

Fairfield Superintendent Billy Smith says his district also offers counseling for students, but not every student can qualify for all services. He says if the levy passes, the district can expand mental health services. "Schools are not what they used to be. Our community, our society is not what it was five years ago, 10 years ago, even two years ago."

Smith says some students weren't getting basic needs met at home, so the district opened a health center. He likens that to mental health needs. "Mental health is a huge barrier for the students we serve," he says. "It's a huge barrier for learning. And if they're not ready to learn when they arrive because of mental health issues, we want to provide them support."

Smith, like other superintendents, says levy funds would also be used to hire additional school resource officers.

Hamilton Schools have five school resource officers (SRO) on staff now, with two more coming this year. Superintendent Larry Knapp says a levy would allow the district to hire another six. He says having armed personnel in the schools is good, but SROs provide another benefit, too. "You see a 4-year-old running across a gymnasium into the arms of one of our SRO. He knows this guy. They build those relationships and those are life-long relationships," he says. "Those are things that make the school safe as well."

If voters approve the measure, the money raised by the levy will go to the school district the property is in.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.