As the school year gets underway, local districts are focused on safety and security, allocating money for school resource officers and campus upgrades.

In Tomball ISD, the district started the year with 20 SROs on its campuses before a new interlocal agreement is set to increase the number of officers to 29, which would allow for one full-time officer at each campus, TISD Chief Operating Officer Steven Gutierrez said. Magnolia ISD, meanwhile, is partnered with Montgomery County Precinct 5 Constable’s Office to provide an SRO for each campus and two SROs for each high school, the district confirmed in an email.

“I understand there may be some anxiety about what students will face,” Gutierrez said. “But our goal is to reduce any of that anxiety.”

Districts’ safety efforts

TISD began the 2023-24 school year with 20 SROs provided by the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office and will increase that figure to 29 officers this fall. Trustees unanimously approved the new interlocal agreement during its August board meeting, Community Impact previously reported.

“That would basically provide one-to-one coverage throughout the district, including command staff that will be supervising those officers,” Gutierrez said.

The district’s current contract with Precinct 4 runs through the end of the county’s fiscal year, Sept. 30, and then the new agreement would begin Oct. 1, Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez also said the district has been paying for 100% of the cost for four officers that were added to TISD late this spring, since the district entered into that agreement mid-fiscal year. With the new agreement, the district will be paying for 70% of the cost of the 29 officers that will be assigned to TISD.

TISD entered into its agreement with the constable’s office following the termination of its agreement with the city of Tomball in February, according to prior reporting. Tomball Police Department SROs served through the end of the 2022-23 school year.

The constable’s office is also launching a guardian program at TISD that will allow volunteer retired peace officers to patrol the district’s campuses. It is not immediately clear how many of the expected 29 officers patrolling campuses this fall will be part of the guardian program or if the volunteer retired peace officers will be in addition to the 29 officers.

“We, as law enforcement, have the obligation to do everything we can to make a difference and help ensure the safety of our kids is our No. 1 priority,” Constable Mark Herman said in an Aug. 7 news release. “We are proud to announce the Guardian Program, and we look forward to playing a significant role in safeguarding our future generation.”

In terms of its own police department, Gutierrez said the district did explore that possibility.

“We know that we can do it—we have a plan and a roadmap for executing if needed,” Gutierrez said. “But we also want to leave that place of law enforcement and providing a safe and secure environment to law enforcement. And so as long as our partners at Precinct 4 feel that this is a great partnership for them and it continues to make financial sense for them, we’re more than happy to continue that because we’re very pleased with the service.”

In Magnolia, the district is underway with several projects to enhance safety, including installing non-scalable 6-foot-tall fencing, glass film for entryways and a new district-wide phone system, MISD confirmed via email.

The district has allocated $1.72 million in the fiscal year 2023-24 general fund budget for safety and security, according to a presentation during MISD's Aug. 14 budget workshop. There is also another $600,000 in additional funds coming from a grant awarded to the district and $2 million available for safety and security projects from the district's 2022 bond, according to MISD.

School safety legislation

Becoming law Sept. 1, House Bill 3—passed by the Texas Legislature and signed by Governor Greg Abbott—mandates that all districts have at least one armed security officer on campus during regular school hours, Community Impact previously reported. Districts will also receive $15,000 per campus and a $0.28 increase to the per-student safety allotment, bringing it to $10 per student.

“We’re not trying to be ungrateful for the dollars that may flow from the state,” Gutierrez said. “But when you look at the totality of what’s required to really enact those requirements, it’s insufficient.”

Gutierrez also said the district is anticipating spending upwards of $5 million dollars to update district facilities to be in compliance with the Texas Education Agency’s updated Commissioner’s Rules Concerning School Facilities.

“We do feel fortunate in Tomball that these conversations have been taking place well before there were compliance issues and requirements. And so we do feel prepared,” Gutierrez said. “But there is certainly a financial obstacle that’s been placed on us that will cause us to have to reevaluate and assess how we allocate dollars.”

Emily Lincke contributed to this report.