Marfa ISD receives preliminary approval for $310,000 state-funded school security grant

Marfa ISD receives preliminary approval for $310,000 state-funded school security grant

MARFA — Marfa ISD will receive $310,000 in grant funding from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) this school year for facilities enhancements in order to bolster school security, according to preliminary approvals released by the agency in November. 

The Safety and Facilities Enhancement (SAFE) grant comes from a recent $1.1 billion appropriation from the Texas Legislature to help schools meet newly established standards for school security. New minimum security requirements were adopted by the TEA in 2023 in light of recent events, including the 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers. 

The first cycle of the grant will award around $800 million to Texas school districts for the 2023-2024 school year. An additional $279.5 million will be allocated in a second cycle later this year. 

Marfa ISD, which submitted a needs assessment to the TEA last August, was awarded a significant sum in the first round of SAFE funding compared to other local school districts. Presidio ISD, the only other school district in the county which serves a far greater number of students, received $231,000. 

Nearby Alpine ISD was awarded around $75,400 in SAFE grant funds, which the district will use for fencing, said Superintendent Michelle Rinehart. She said the state’s criteria for what the funds can be used for was fairly restrictive, and she hopes a forthcoming second cycle of funding will “have more flexibility so that districts can locally determine how to use much-needed security funding to meet their needs.” 

Interim Superintendent Arturo Alferez said Marfa ISD intends to spend the money on silent panic alert buttons and keyless entry doors for each classroom, fortification of windows –– by installing a bulletproof film or glaze — and additional security cameras, all of which meet grant requirements.

Alferez said the district will have to see how much they can afford to buy with the $310,000, but it is likely — given how costly some of its wish items are — additional funds will be needed. 

“When it comes down to school safety, there’s never enough,” said Alferez. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to go through this grant, and we’re going to realize, ‘Oh, we need this.’” 

“When it comes down to student safety, you just can’t put a price on that,” he added. 

State funds may not stretch as far for rural districts like Marfa ISD, said Alferez, given the fact that they often have to attract vendors from farther away — involving added costs.

“Being a remote rural school district makes it even more expensive because you have to contract with vendors either coming from El Paso, coming from Lubbock or coming from Midland,” said Alferez. 

Alferez — who is managing a district that adopted a $1 million-plus deficit budget this year — echoed Rinehart’s sentiments that the state’s funding restrictions were, at times, frustrating.

An influx of state aid is sorely needed in other areas in addition to school security — Marfa ISD’s school cafeteria is in dire need of a new HVAC unit, and COVID relief funds that are helping pay salaries will soon run out. Marfa ISD recently put an ill-fated $57 million bond package up for a public vote in order to build a new K-12 school, citing inadequate, rapidly deteriorating facilities. 

Despite those continued challenges, upgrading the district’s existing facilities in the name of student safety is money well spent, said Alferez. 

“School safety is always gonna be a priority, and it doesn’t matter what era of education we’re in, if kids do not feel safe here in school, then learning is not going to happen,” said Alferez. 

Alferez said the district hopes to tackle the new security upgrades made possible by the SAFE grant this spring. Any additional security cameras will join the district’s existing system of 37 cameras installed in the fall of 2022. 

In addition to the security cameras — which the district is leasing for $81,000 for five years — the district hired its first full-time armed school resource officer around a year ago. 

Alferez said the school safety committee — which will ideally be made up of area law enforcement officers, teachers, administrators, principals, students and parents — will begin meeting more regularly soon, and he is seeking additional members to help guide the district in how it can improve security.

“If they’re serving as a teacher, if they’re serving as a parent, if they’re serving as a first responder, it’s always good to have different eyes,” said Alferez.