School officials plan safety summit

Tangipahoa Parish school and law enforcement officials are planning to hold a school security summit to determine what additional measures can be taken to ensure the safety of the parish’s public school students.

Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards and Hammond Police Chief Roddy Devall requested the summit following the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary, Superintendent Mark Kolwe told School Board members Thursday.

A date has not yet been set for the summit.

The Tangipahoa Parish school system had taken numerous steps to ensure campus safety prior to the shooting, including working with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office to develop crisis management plans for each of the district’s 32 schools, upgrading security features on each campus, and providing school resource officers at all parish high schools through a partnership with the Sheriff’s Office, Kolwe said.

The superintendent also plans to bring in a consultant, who contacted the district prior to the Sandy Hook shooting, to make sure the schools’ crisis plans not only can help prevent such incidents, but also include policies for maintaining communication with parents and the community, he said.

In addition, district schools will increase the number of lockdown drills they perform each year, he said.

“The sheriff is pleased with what he sees in our schools, but we all agree that if there’s anything else we can do within financial reason to make our schools safer, we’ll do it,” Kolwe said.

Other business before the School Board included:

TAX PROPOSITIONS: The School Board voted unanimously to seek voter approval of an increased millage in support of Hammond-area magnet programs and of the rededication of an existing 1-cent sales tax to allow more flexibility in its use.

Hammond-area voters approved a three-year, 9-mill ad valorem tax in 2010 to support magnet programs in Hammond’s kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms, bond attorney David Henderson said. That tax expired in 2012.

The proposed new millage would levy 15 mills for five years and would expand those magnet programs to include all grades, school officials said.

In addition, a 1-cent sales tax approved by parish voters through 2043 would be rededicated, if voters agree, to fund any acquisition, operation or maintenance purpose at the parish’s schools, as well as funding support for employee salaries if needed, Henderson said.

The tax is dedicated only to capital improvements and related equipment purchases, he said. Rededicating the tax to a broader purpose would allow the School Board to respond to the fiscal priorities of each year.

However, tax funds collected under the existing proposition would still be restricted to the purposes approved by voters at that time, he said.