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Arizona Schools Can Apply For State Money To Hire Police Officers, Counselors, Social Workers

By Mariana Dale
Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - 5:44pm
Updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2019 - 11:53am

Dena Morgan
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
Queen Creek Unified School District social worker Dena Morgan also has 12 years of experience as a school counselor.

Starting Sept. 16, Arizona public schools can apply for money to hire police officers, counselors and social workers.

The State Board of Education approved the new application process for the School Safety Program at its meeting Monday.

Arizona’s latest budget includes $20 million additional dollars for the School Safety Program and expands it to include counselors and social workers — 114 schools currently use the program to pay school resource officers.

Associate Superintendent Callie Kozlak said schools are encouraged to apply for the new funding to form a “multidisciplinary team approach where they are working within multiple teams and expertises within the school in order to provide effective approaches to school safety including both physical safety, as well as mental health.”

The grant application closes Sept. 27, and the goal is for approved schools to start hiring officers, counselors and social workers by the end of the year.

The police officer parking spot is empty at Wilson Elementary School.
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
The police officer parking spot at Wilson Elementary School in Phoenix. The school hasn't had a resource officer since the year before last after it got waitlisted for the School Safety Program.

The Department of Education will focus on funding one position per school first. If there are more applications received than funding available, the department will award funding to sites with the lowest school report card grade first, said spokesman Stefan Swiat.   

The Board previously rejected a proposal to fund schools already on a wait list for the School Safety Program.

Despite recent increases in education funding,  Arizona public schools still receive fewer dollars per student than before the Great Recession, when those numbers are adjusted for inflation. Some districts have districts have sought funding elsewhere to hire new staff.

The Queen Creek Unified School District is using a three-year, $150,000-a year grant from the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family to hire two social workers for the district’s middle and high schools.  Each school in the district has at least one counselor.

“We’ve really tried to increase the touch point for students as far as how many people they can interact with and have a meaningful relationship with someone outside of a classroom teacher or their parents,” said district Assistant Superintendent Cort Monroe.

Social worker Dena Morgan will work in Eastmark High School and Queen Creek Middle School. She has already started to identify the areas she’ll focus on.

“Fighting depression, anxiety, a lot of school pressure, self-esteem issues, anything really that would fit under that umbrella of social emotional issues,” Morgan said.  

To start, Morgan will meet with students and parents individually, conduct support groups in the schools, and help with a drug diversion program.

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