#schoolsafety | Beaumont city council, school board discuss safety and potential bond


The Beaumont city council and district school board discussed various issues that affect both parties during Monday’s joint meeting, including perception, safety and violence and infrastructure, among other things.

The meeting, which is held semi-regularly, allows the two entities to collaborate on how to tackle issues which may be difficult for one or the other to solve individually.

The joint meetings are slated to happen quarterly each year. However, due to the pandemic and schedule conflicts, the meetings have been less frequent. It was proposed Monday that the two bodies meet at least twice each year.

The mayor, city manager, city attorney, council members, school district superintendent, school board members and the district counsel all gathered at the Event Centre in Beaumont to identify high-priority goals to advance the city and its school district. They’re aiming to foster relationships, provide economic development, ensure a safe and secure city and school district and improve quality of life.
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The only member absent was Beaumont ISD District 4 Trustee Kevin Reece.
No actions were voted on by either body.
After opening statements from City Manager Kenneth Williams and Superintendent Shannon Allen, five public speakers made comments including two West Brook High School students Saifan Panjwani and Sam Marchand, who spoke to issues plaguing the school district and city such as violence.
“It does not have to be said that (Beaumont ISD) is at its lowest point in its history,” Panjwani said. “With the recent increase in crime within our schools, our community has been left fractured. With every lockdown, assault or bomb threat, the wound begins to deepen. The issues that we are seeing on our campus are not new. However, what has changed in recent years is the number of incidents that occur and the severity of these incidents.”
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Panjwani said the frequency of violent or disruptive acts on some Beaumont ISD campuses has affected the students’ education, noting the score the Texas Education Agency gave the district – 67, or unrated – for the 2021-22 school year.
Marchand echoed the same sentiments, pointing to the city’s high crime rate.
“The community faces daunting challenges to its future growth and prosperity and the integrity of the city’s youth is crucial to safeguard its future,” he said.
Both students encouraged the city and school district to work together more regularly to propel the community forward.
Local business owner and 2000 Clifton J. Ozen High School graduate LaDonna Sherwood-Hailey encouraged audience members and community members to become more involved in the city and school district by volunteering.
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“There are oftentimes so many things that we can point out that need to be done, that haven’t been done, people that have dropped the ball, things that aren’t going well,” she said. “We can all point out everything that is going wrong with whatever’s happening in and around the community, but that does us no justice that does us no service. I encourage everybody here to do something, be found doing their part, not talking about it, but being about it.”
For more than an hour during the meeting, the two bodies spent time developing goals that they’d like to see the city and district reach within the next four or five years, which included numerous team activities facilitated by Texas-based consulting firm The Elim Group’s President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Conduff.
The group then moved on to discussion items including media relations, safety and violence in the city and schools, WiFi at parks near Beaumont ISD schools, safe routes for students to travel to school, service projects and a potential bond election, among other things.
Safety and violence was one of the more involved discussions the group had, with almost every member commenting on efforts being made by both the district and city.
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“It’s critical here in Beaumont,” Williams said. “It’s one of the things that’s been to the forefront in the press here, not only press here, it’s been negative press for us around the state and country for that matter.”
Ward II Councilman Mike Getz began the discussion with recommending that the school district add cameras in all of its classrooms. He noted that after the city added cameras to areas where crimes took place, the crimes lessened or stopped altogether.
Allen said that Beaumont ISD currently has about 1,800 cameras across its district and is working to add more to total around 2,500. According to Allen, most fights or other occurrences don’t happen in classrooms, but rather common areas such as hallways or cafeterias where cameras either already are installed or are soon to be.
District 1 Trustee Joe Evans said that more cameras would not deter acts of violence or insubordination, and more adequate consequences are needed.
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“It doesn’t matter if a person commits an infraction on camera if they get no consequences,” Evans said. “And our students are brazen enough to fight on a phone camera, in a common area, in front of law enforcement because there’s no consequence to their actions.That’s a legislative issue.”
Throughout the discussion, Evans again pointed to the Legislature preventing the district from implementing certain consequences due to laws currently in place.
“We either go back to the family structure and become social workers or we lobby our legislature to pass new laws that allow us to consequence our students,” he said. “There has to be true reform that has to take place and that’s beyond what can happen in these two governmental bodies. So, we can talk about it, but we have to take this fight beyond here. This has to go to Austin or even beyond.”
Arguably the most lively discussion of the night came from the final agenda item: future growth of Beaumont, potential bond election.
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At-Large Trustee Denise Wallace-Spooner began the discussion by saying that the district needs a new high school and middle school due to enrollment increases.
However, recent enrollment numbers showed the district has lost about 500 students each school year since 2018.
Evans asked the group, particularly city council members, how to broach the topic of a bond to residents who he said through his discussions with them have “no appetite for a bond.”

Evans said that some of the district’s campuses are aging and are further strained by their use as emergency shelters during natural disasters. He noted West Brook High School in particular is “bursting at the seams,” even with district enrollment as a whole trending down.
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Ward I Councilman Taylor Neild pointed to the district’s declining enrollment, saying that before the district builds a new high school, “Don’t you need kids to fill it first?”
Evans said that many of the complaints he receives from constituents regarding West Brook are that crowds are too big because the school was never designed to accommodate the 2,000-plus students it has.
Neild responded by saying the district already showed it could spend $388 million without making the students smarter.
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Allen said rebuilding facilities is not about necessarily making students smarter, but rather attracting potential students and families to the district with upgraded facilities.
“New schools do not help education and they obviously have not attracted more people to Beaumont,” Neild said.
At-Large Councilman A.J. Turner said students shouldn’t just be able to have a nice school when they’re performing well academically.
“Every student – I don’t care where they’re at as far as education – when you put people in nice environments, things can happen better and we’ve got to get to the point as a community, we’ve got to quit talking about stuff that happened 10, 20 years ago and grow up and move on,” he said. “That’s the reason I feel like Beaumont hasn’t grown to the level it should have grown to by now because all we do, and it’s leaders as well, we talk about what happened five years ago, 10 years, 20 years ago.”
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Board Secretary and District 2 Trustee Stacey Lewis, Jr. said the district has a problem with not being able to maintain its campuses, leaving them susceptible to future damage and closure.
“We want to talk about, ‘Well, our enrollment is declining.’ That’s a Catch-22 because the city’s declining and the city was declining long before Beaumont ISD’s enrollment declined,” he said. “At one point, we were on pace to be a 200,0008 populated city and we’ve been going down from every census since then. I think it’s incumbent on us to change the tone of our voice and then start putting our money where our mouth is and take care of our future.”
No details were given on if and when a potential bond election could be put on the ballot and what exactly the bond would be used for.

olivia.malick@hearst.com

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