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JPA

Nearly 100 community leaders gathered Thursday for the official announcement of a proposed joint public agency to support community learning centers, mental health services and school resource officers.

MARGARET REIST, Journal Star

After cries for improved school security following the slaughter of 17 students and staff at a Florida high school in February, Lincoln officials unveiled their preferred plan to do just that.

The multifaceted proposal endorsed by Mayor Chris Beutler, Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel, Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister and a host of other area nonprofits would create a joint public agency (JPA) with a one-cent levy to fund new school resource officers (SROs), student mental health services and Community Learning Center (CLC) programs at most Title I schools.

Such a campaign won’t be cheap; the initiative’s first year alone estimates the cost at around $2 million. But, as we’ve written since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Lincolnites must put their money where their mouths are if they truly want the student safety for which they’ve clamored.

School shootings are astronomically rare, but parents want more armed security should the unthinkable occur. This plan is a small step in that direction while taking the necessary wide view that reaching at-risk kids must be proactive rather than punitive.

A plus of this accord, one that can’t be overstated, is that officials didn’t produce a plan that made Lincoln schools feel like prisons. Rather than going the route of metal detectors and armed guards as some suggested, expanding after-school programs and adding mental health services and SROs represent measures that don’t dramatically alter the learning environment.

The hiring of six new officers, each to be split between two middle schools and possibly their feeder elementary buildings, may be the most visual element. However, organizers believe investing in mental health – a frequent refrain following mass shootings – and enrichment programs are also vital pieces of the puzzle.

As such, the proposal blends concerns and solutions from all sides quite well.

But the need for another taxing agency – particularly considering an interlocal agreement offers seemingly every other financial benefit of a JPA, including being exempted from the city’s spending lid – deserves additional discussion.

With the 17 percent rise in Lancaster County’s commercial property tax base, a year after an 8 percent increase for residential valuations, keeping the promise of a levy-neutral agreement remains critical.

We’re not quibbling with the intent of the joint proposal among city, school and nonprofit officials. And we understand the importance of an organization designed to preserve the CLC programs and pursue grants, the justification city officials provided Thursday when formally introducing the Safe and Successful Kids Community Coalition.

From our vantage point, that effort appears to be a sound proposal that offers myriad solutions to a problem that’s garnered national headlines. While the funding and governance structure should be further studied, the program’s prime aims are worthy investments in Lincoln and its schools.

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