The process for deciding on school security options continues for the Stephenville ISD, after the board of trustees decided on Monday night to table a vote on adopting a plan known as the Guardian Program.
The board's vote on tabling the issue was unanimous (6-0). Trustee Keri Vanden Berge was not in attendance.
Two local residents who have children attending SISD schools addressed the board during the public comment portion, expressing concerns about the proposal. The Guardian Program, if adopted, would allow teachers and staff members to carry concealed firearms on a volunteer basis, after they have gone through approved training and received a concealed carry license.
“You’re just reducing the risk. You’re not making anything impossible,” Darin Barton, who has two children in the SISD, told the board. “I don’t want to fight fire with fire. I think we should consider non-lethal alternatives.”
The first parent to speak to the board was Mary McGuire, who not only has two children in SISD, but also said she has a law degree and practiced law briefly in Ohio before moving to Texas. McGuire said that both of her parents were teachers, and she has done some substitute teaching.
McGuire said she comes from a hunting family, and is not opposed to gun rights in general, but noted later to the E-T, “During my time as a teacher, I’ve always been taught that a teacher’s job is to de-escalate.
“I’m not for arming teachers. Having a gun in the classroom is not a de-escalating tool. My biggest concern is that there are a lot of questions unanswered.
“We believe in the safe use of weapons. I just don’t believe that bringing guns into our schools is the answer.”
The board members agreed, and Superintendent Matt Underwood said that the public will have another opportunity to speak (five minutes each) on the topic when the board meets again on Monday, Sept. 17 (5:30 p.m.).
When asked if he thinks a vote on adopting a new safety plan is likely to take place at that meeting, he said, “I think so.”
Although Underwood indicated he would favor the widely-used Guardian Program, possibly with some specific changes to suit local needs, he added, “I think there’s no need to rush into anything.”
Underwood said Tuesday that 182 schools in Texas are using the Guardian Program. The other plan that is also in common use in public schools around the nation, the Marshal Program, is only in place at one school in the state.
“The key, to me, is to keep it extremely limited,” Underwood said. “You can fully vette (those carrying), and they can be fully trained.”
Underwood added that more information on the potential safety plans will be sent to SISD parents.
“Transparency is always my No. 1 goal," Underwood said. "We wanted to give people another chance to speak.”
McGuire, who posed a wide range of questions she has about having firearms in the schools, told the E-T that she is happy more discussion will follow so that parents will be “getting more information.”
She added, “If we’re going to do it (the Guardian Program), we really need to work out some more kinks before we accept the policy.”
Josh McLaughlin, a representative of BOK Financial in Austin who is a financial planner hired to find the best rate on the SISD bonds, attended the meeting and told the board some good news about the bond rate he had nailed down earlier in the day.
Underwood said the latest, best rate that McLaughlin had secured during the day Monday was, “much lower than even I had anticipated.”
McLaughlin said the going rates lately had been about 3.7 percent. Underwood said that the best rate McLaughlin found and secured Monday, 3.53 percent, “was pretty shocking.”
“Those first numbers (presented to the board previously) were based on a 30-year term,” Underwood said.
He said the new rate, with a 24-year term instead of 30 years, will save the SISD about $11 million in interest.
That should have a positive impact on next year’s overall budget, he said.
“I do think that next year we will have a lower tax rate,” Underwood speculated. “As we move forward, it’s required that we spend 5 percent of the bond funds in the first calendar year. We’re going to try to start on the softball field this fall.”
Underwood said the softball field along with a band practice field will be among the first projects started from the overall $60.8 million bond, which was approved by the board in May.