PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Changes to grant funding could allow some schools to decide whether the money they currently use to pay for security officers should be diverted to hiring counselors or social workers.
State Superintendent of Public Schools, Kathy Hoffman, brought up the topic at the last Board of Education meeting. However, board members voted to discuss the matter at the next meeting in late August.
About 128 schools in the Valley use grant money to hire school resource officers (SROs). However, Hoffman wants to give school districts options with how they divvy up their funding by giving them the choice of adding a counselor or social worker. However, it's not clear if each school will have the funding to have both on campus.
"If you only have funding for one option, either a social worker or SRO, then that means funding has to come out of somewhere; that can be increased class sizes, that could be lack of materials for teachers, that could be less teachers on a campus, or maybe they have to get rid of the librarian," said high school teacher and Arizona Education Association board member, Amber Gould.
Gould said that SROs play a vital role on many campuses, but some students might benefit more from a social worker or counselor.
She explained that social workers handle more of the mental health sides of education, whereas a counselor helps students with planning for the future and college prep.
"There are choices that have to go down the line that ultimately impact students in very negative ways," said Gould. "You look at both sides of it and say pick one--picking one is not what's best for our students. Funding education appropriately and making sure that they have those resources altogether, that's what's best for our students."
According to the American School Counselor Association, Arizona has the worst student to counselor ratio in the nation at 905-to-1. The national average is 455-to-1, and the recommended ratio is 250-to-1.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone also weighed in on the topic, agreeing that it's a tough dilemma as both SROs, counselors and social workers are important for students to have at hand.
"Counselors doing their job on the campus can absolutely be the first point of resource that can provide resources for a person in need and deter an act of violence and be a conduit to address any growing social challenges that occur," Penzone said. "You saw in one of the most recent shootings that within one minute's time law enforcement was there to stop the shooter, yet how many lives were taken? So time is of the essence."
Penzone suggests that counselors and social workers should come first.
"Let's make sure we have the appropriate law enforcement surrounding that community to respond as needed. Secondary is an SRO provides a relational opportunity for law enforcement to young adults in a protective layer, but I'll take the counselor first," Penzone said.
Several schools are still waiting for grant funding for SROs. However, if the change is finalized, then those schools will get the same options once their funding is approved.
The Board of Education will discuss the process of administering funds to schools who would like either an SRO and/or a school counselor or social worker on Aug. 26.
"These are ways that students are shown that they are safe on a campus and that they are welcome on a campus and I think ultimately we have students that just want to feel safe in our society," said Gould.