Arizona schools in legal battle with state over security upgrades

Posted at 10:14 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 15:37:20-04

Before mass shootings in Parkland, Florida and Uvalde, Texas, Arizona school districts sued the state over funding for capital projects that could improve security.

The 18-page lawsuit was filed in 2017 and is currently making its way through courts.

Still, the recent shooting in Texas has highlighted the need for districts to make schools as safe as possible.

"Arizona is sitting on $5 billion right now, they could easily resolve this," said Danny Adelman, an attorney with Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.

Adelman's lawsuit accuses the state of failing to provide enough money to address basic needs including technology, transportation and security.

In 2014, the state published a list with recommendations that districts should follow to make their schools safer.

However, under Arizona law, the state only pays for items that are required, not recommended.

"We found that within in the Arizona Administration Code, the definition of an adequately safe school is basically a perimeter fence," said Dale Ponder, Crane Elementary School District's chief financial officer.

"We feel that in today's climate, there should be a great focus just beyond a physical barrier," he said.

According to Adelman, only certain districts can afford the upgraded security measures.

"Our constitution says the state has to provide a general and uniform system for education," said Adelman.

"How is it uniform if only the rich districts can afford to keep themselves safe and poor districts can't," he said.

Ponder said Crane has been phasing in upgrades but could speed up the process if they got more funding.

ABC15 reached out to the governor's office regarding the lawsuit. However, a spokesperson said they do not comment on pending litigation.

The governor has proposed legislation to improve security at schools.

That plan included enhanced background checks, more mental health resources and additional school resource officers but did not include any capital improvements.

The case has several motions under review by a Superior Court Judge in Maricopa County. A trial date has not been set.