Bridgeport focuses on student safety

With safety in schools on everyone’s minds due to the unfortunate, tragic events that have unfolded across the United States in recent months, the Bridgeport Exempted Village School District has already taken steps to ensure its students’ well-being.

A Belmont County Sheriff’s Department Deputy has been walking the campus hallways for the past several weeks as the district’s resource officer, according to Superintendent Ted Downing.

“The board of education has picked up the tab for the remainder of the current school year,” Downing said, noting the cost will be around $20,000 for the rest of the year. “The board understands that it’s something that they want to do. They want to help protect the children in our district.

“But, to keep him (the resource officer) in the building, we are going to need the public’s help,” Downing explained. “The board cannot afford to absorb the entire cost each year.”

To help off-set those costs, which Downing said could reach $50,000, the district will be placing a 1-mill levy on the May 7 ballot. “The 1-mill will take care of that, and it will also allow us to have a resource officer at most of our events.

“This will be a decision they, the public, can make,” he added. “If they vote for the levy, then we will have a resource officer. If they don’t, we won’t and it will be a dead issue.”

When asked if there was a need for a resource officer in his district, Downing quickly replied, “Do I think there’s a need for an officer anywhere? In this day and age, if you go back 30 years, there’s been almost 200 school shootings. If you break that down by when schools are in session, that’s almost a shooting every month.

“You can never say, ‘It’ll never happen here’ because it happens in districts like ours,” Downing continued. “But our community and our district will have input. Is this how you want your tax dollars to be used? They will be able to make that choice.”

Board of Education president Jodi Harkness had these comments concerning the proposed levy.

“In light of the recent events that have transpired, we feel that having a resource officer in the building only makes sense. With finances being the way they are, we have decided to ask the residents for help in covering the cost of the officer,” she said.

“Personally, I feel a ‘yes’ vote on this levy is a no-brainer. We’re talking about the safety of our children. For those residents who have questions or concerns, I encourage you to attend our informational meeting to have those addressed.

“Bridgeport is a close-knit district. Just about everyone has a friend or relative that is part of the school, so I know safety is a top priority for just about everyone here.”

According to Downing, a resource officer does more than just patrol the hallways.

“They interact with the students on a daily basis and, in some instances, even teach classes,” he said.

Downing also wanted to make it clear that the levy will be an “operating” levy.

“Some people in the community have expressed concern about how we’ve been spending our money,” Downing revealed. “The money for the new lights at Perkins Field came out of the permanent improvement fund. That money can only be used to improve buildings and grounds and things like that. That money cannot be spent on anything but those areas.

“This is an entirely different area,” he continued. “This is an operating expense, so it has to come out of the general fund.”

The aforementioned informational meeting that Harkness alluded to will be held on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 3 p.m. in the school cafetorium.

“We will be there to answer any questions community members might have,” he noted.