SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah-Chatham County Public School leaders met Monday to work out how to spend money in the next fiscal year.
Campus safety and security enhancements are a big focus for funding. Board of Education Police Chief Terry Enoch says the money would fund more people and more metal detectors at schools across the district to help build up the security plans that are already in place.
School safety isn't a new topic Savannah-Chatham Public Schools is tackling, but Chief Enoch says the 2018-2019 budget boosts what his department is already doing.
"We just didn't start when these shootings started," he said. "We started way before this, and we've been working on securing our schools."
The $1.9 million budgeted for safety and security enhancements will help them continue. That money will fund two things. About $800,000 will pay for more metal detectors in schools.
"We're just building that piece out, adding more metal detectors so that we can do more of those type of searches to make sure contraband doesn't come in," Chief Enoch said.
The rest of the money will pay for school safety aids, including additional people stationed at schools to screen students and visitors.
"They're just like in courthouses to make sure that contraband doesn't get in and things that people shouldn't have don't come into the learning environment," the chief said.
The screeners won't be armed and they do not replace school resource officers who can arrest people., but they're adding something Chief Enoch and Superintendent Ann Levett calls heart-wear to their hardware."
"The heart-wear is really important because that's the people - the people who can help us and intervene when necessary," Levett said.
The proposed budget comes with a 2.25 millage rate increase, a total of 18.881 mills, but the district says it's willing to do what it takes to keep kids safe at school.
"You can't put a price on the life of a child or a co-worker or a neighbor or a son. You just can't do that," Levett said.
"Our kids are our most valuable resource, and I think we have a responsibility to do everything we can in order to keep them safe. Part of that is making sure that we have the financial resources to make that happen," Chief Enoch said.
The retirement and benefit rate increases for state employees, like teachers, are unfunded mandates that will cost Savannah-Chatham Public Schools with more than $10 million. One way to pay for that is the millage rate increase on your taxes.
The retirement and benefit rate increase will make up nearly 1 mil, with the safety items and Savannah's fire fee making up the rest. The district says some people think this proposed increase is to cover the new fire fee, but Levett says it's only a small piece compared to what they'll pay for retirement and benefits.
"Those are very critical to us and for those who work with us or have worked with us," she said. "Those are unfunded mandates that number into the millions, so they have a really big impact. The fire fee was like a latecomer to this game."
"All districts are in the same boat, and statewide, we're all looking for ways to try to fund that increase," said Larry Jackson, Chief Financial Officer, SCCPSS.
Jackson says there's an additional teacher retirement rate increase next year the district is also pre-planning to handle.