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Your taxpayer dollars: Are they helping keep students safe in public schools?

As school districts across Washington grapple with how to keep campuses safe and secure, a legislator sat down with KING 5 to share how new state funds will help.

WASHINGTON — Legislators said a new two-year Washington state budget includes the largest funding increase for K-12 schools in a decade, but it was passed around the same time that student and staff lockdowns occurred in spades in public schools across the state.

So how is this money helping to keep your student safe?

KING 5 spoke to people impacted by security threats in schools, as well as the Senate's chief Democratic budget writer. 

Twice in one week, Shelton View Elementary students in Bothell suffered a security scare: first a lockdown, then a "Safe Inside" order.

"It was scary," said Jennifer Bendix, a parent of a student at Shelton View Elementary. "It shook me to my core."

Administrators canceled school the following Friday so staff and students could recuperate. 

"It was traumatic, like, two traumatic events happening," Bendix said.

Bendix is a teacher at another school district in western Washington. She said the national climate surrounding campus safety often feeds her anxiety.

"I literally go every day to work not knowing if I'm gonna come home or not," Bendix said.

Northshore School District Superintendent Michael Tolley met with parents in person to discuss the topic as first responders helped to secure the school.

"I’m so thankful that they responded," Bendix said.

Security threats, whether fraudulent or real, continue to be an issue in schools across Washington. 

"After it happened at my child’s school, then it happened in eastern Washington at a friend of mine’s school," Bendix said.

So how are your taxpayer dollars helping the issue? 

As Tolley informed parents last week, Washington state does not fund physical campus security improvements like fences, locks and surveillance cameras. Therefore, the question remains: how will the state’s historic expenditure go toward keeping your student safe?

KING 5 spoke with Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

"The biggest part of the education budget is people," Rolfes said. "It's paying for the teachers, paying for the bus drivers, and the custodians and the principals and everybody that runs the school. That's where your school dollars go."

Many of your school dollars are being devoted to staff salaries.

"Over a billion dollars, over four years," Rolfes said. 

Rolfes said it is the biggest part of this year’s budget. Because of that, she said positions for monitoring security on campus can be created.

"That money is very flexible," Rolfes said. 

Rolfes said districts will be better resourced to fund mental health staff like school counselors, nurses, and psychologists.

"Kids who are really struggling with behavioral issues, and having staff on campus, [this] will help those students," Rolfes said.

The make-up of positions on the roster, however, is decided by the districts, but Rolfes said amid a labor shortage it will help keep staffing. 

"Part of that phase in is to build up the workforce, let the districts have the opportunity to advertise and lure faculty and staff in from other states," Rolfes said. "That sort of thing."

But the money for physical security improvements comes from school district bonds.

"We learned that our district has passed two bonds recently in the last couple of years," Bendix said. “To make sure that our students are safe.

Talk to your state senators, talk to your congressman, talk to everybody and anybody who will listen, because enough is enough. Enough is enough."

Washington's newly devoted education funds will be available to districts starting in the 2023-2024 school year.

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