Gun control becomes hot topic at annual state budget meeting

January 23, 2013

An annual state budget ritual in Annapolis turned to the hot topic of gun control Wednesday as school officials from Washington’s Maryland suburbs offered starkly different views on shoring up campus security after last month’s massacre in Newtown, Conn.

The typically monotonous, day-long hearing of local budget requests turned tense when Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr and state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) butted heads over armed guards in schools.

Franchot, also of Montgomery, has taken a forceful position in favor of putting armed guards in all public schools.

“We have not talked about putting them in elementary schools, nor do I believe them to be necessary,” Starr said.

That drew a heated response from Franchot: “I really urge you to go back and rethink that,” Franchot said. “These schools designed in the ’60s and ’70s are particularly vulnerable, and do you really want to play roulette with this? ... I hope you’re absolutely right and I’m completely wrong, but I might not be.”

Starr elaborated that he considers the state’s School Resource Officer (SRO) program appropriate for high schools, but often not for middle schools and definitely not for elementary schools. In Maryland, SROs are typically current or retired law enforcement officers, and they are typically armed.

By contrast, Monica Goldson, chief operating officer of Prince George’s County schools, said the county was working to determine whether it could hire 10 additional SROs. She also detailed the district’s plans for expanding school safety, including the installation of new cameras, panic buttons and buzz-in systems.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has said he is open to expanding the state’s SRO program, watched but did not engage in the back-and-forth.

This moment of tension was a departure from the congeniality of the rest of the meeting, affectionately known as the beg-a-thon, for which school officials travel to Annapolis to request more funding than the governor’s budget has allotted. O’Malley has attempted to rename the meeting the “hope-a-thon.”

Many attempted to appeal to ’Malley by noting their school’s pursuit of environmentally friendly projects.

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