BY SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – The state board that licenses private security firms voted to allow 13 Arkansas school districts to train and arm staff.
Many of the schools are in rural areas where there is a relatively long response time for officers from the closest police department or sheriff’s office. Superintendents of the schools said it was cheaper to train and arm existing staff than to pay for officers from private security firms.
The vote by the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies was complicated by legal technicalities. The Board had to reconcile two separate laws – one that prohibits the carrying of firearms on campus except for licensed security guards, and another that only allows private companies to apply for licenses to commission private security guards. The problem is that a school district is not a private entity.
Several of the school districts have been training and arming staff for years, and Board members who voted in the majority said they did not want to diminish security at those schools. As one member said, it came down to distinguishing between the intent of the law and the letter of the law.
The Board took several actions in a lengthy meeting to get around technicalities. At the end of the day the vote was to allow the 13 districts that now have licenses to keep them for two years. School administrators have time to petition the legislature for a clarification of the existing laws.
These are the 13 school districts that can continue to train and arm staff: Ashdown, Clarksville, Concord, Cutter-Morning Star, Fort Smith, Lake Hamilton, Lee County, Little Rock, Nettleton, Poyen, Pulaski County Special, Texarkana and Westside Consolidated.
The Board voted to not allow any additional school districts to apply for security licenses. Also, the 13 districts with licenses cannot expand them during the next two years.
The legislature convenes in fiscal session in February to approve budgets for state agencies, and it takes an extraordinary majority to consider a non-appropriation bill. The next regular session convenes in January of 2015. Several lawmakers have expressed support for a law that would clarify the authority of school districts to train and arm staff.
Desegregation Hearing to Proceed
The federal judge in the long-running Pulaski County desegregation case refused to delay hearings scheduled for December, during which the state will argue that it should no longer have to pay the three Pulaski County school districts for desegregation efforts.
Since a 1989 settlement in the case, the state has paid more than $1 billion in total to the three districts and is obligated to pay about $70 million a year until it is released. If the state is released from future payments, the money would be available for other state services, including K-12 education in all Arkansas school districts.
The Little Rock and North Little Rock School Districts are desegregated to the extent required by law, according to federal court rulings. However, the Pulaski County Special School District has yet to be declared “unitary,” which is the legal designation meaning it is desegregated.
Complicating the issue is that the Pulaski County district has been deemed to be in fiscal distress and its superintendent was removed and replaced by a superintendent appointed by the state. Also, patrons in Jacksonville have been trying to separate the Jacksonville schools from the Pulaski County district.