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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND--Gov. Bob McDonnell said he's asking lawmakers to hold off on spending more than $32 million in unappropriated money until after his new school safety task force makes its initial recommendations.
The task force held its first meeting Monday in Richmond, and is expected to come up with some proposals within three weeks.
McDonnell, in a letter submitting his budget amendments to the General Assembly Friday, said he hopes to use part of a $32.7 million unappropriated balance to pay for "whatever resources are necessary to fund specific recommendations" before the next school year begins.
McDonnell set up the task force after last month's school shooting in Connecticut. It includes heads of a variety of state agencies and boards, experts in education and mental health, and several lawmakers, including Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa and Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Kinsale.
The task force is supposed to review safety at Virginia's public schools, focusing on any areas where schools could improve safety and budget items that may need more funding to enhance safety.
The group's first deadline is Jan. 31 because McDonnell wants a chance to seek General Assembly approval for initial recommendations or budget amendments.
State Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker called it "a very aggressive schedule" and said members of the task force and its work groups will meet frequently through the end of the month.
They'll also take public comment, she said, both at meetings and online. Online comments can be submitted through state websites.
Decker told task force members that they must stay focused on the relatively narrow mandate for the group--to look at ways to improve school safety. The group's meetings are not, she said, "the place for larger policy discussions" like gun control or education funding.
McDonnell and other lawmakers have said they'll weigh whether more school resource officers--who are law enforcement officers assigned to schools--are needed.
The cost of that, however, could be dampening. McDonnell said he's heard it could cost $100 million to $150 million to put a school resource officer in every school.
He said he wants the task force to give him its best recommendations, and then he will weigh what's doable.
For its first meeting, the task force heard reports on school safety programs and resources in Virginia, and on mental health issues.