The Southeast Arkansas College Board of Trustees voted to opt out of a new state law Wednesday that would allow faculty and staff members with concealed-handgun permits to carry the firearms on campus.
The board heard a series of current and past law enforcement officers and security experts make the case for maintaining the campus as a gun-free zone for everyone except security officers and law enforcement personnel enrolled as students.
“I recently attended a meeting of the Arkansas Association of Two Year Colleges and I can tell you that most if not all of them will opt out of this law,” said criminal justice technology instructor and former Pine Bluff Police Department Capt. Greg Shapiro. “It is problematic for law enforcement first responders if a faculty member has a concealed handgun permit and is on scene with a gun brandished. The responding officer may mistakenly identify the faculty member as a threat and respond to them accordingly. In addition to misidentification, another concern is the potential intimidation factor that could occur if a supervisor is meeting with an employee and one or both of them are armed.”
Shapiro said that another concern is the school’s potential legal liability from an employee who incorrectly handles a firearm while on campus.
PBPD Capt. Kelvin Hadley shared Shapiro’s concerns.
“One of my first concerns is looking at an individual brandishing a gun on scene and identifying him or her as a threat,” Hadley said. “In an active shooter situation, there is no time to determine if they are a concealed handgun permit holder or not. We must act quickly and we want to make the right call. We are prepared to identify the victims and the suspects. We don’t want people who are not professionally trained to brandish firearms. Law enforcement officers are trained for these situations.”
Securitas Security Services regional manager Katrina Turner added her voice to those urging an opt out by the college, saying that her company’s security personnel are doing what is needed to keep the campus safe.
“For us, the main thing is to not have anything that will interfere with our response to an ongoing situation,” Turner said. “Anyone can get a concealed handgun permit, but it’s what you do after that which is crucial. Securitas provides SEARK with two armed officers 24/7. I would see having armed faculty and staff with concealed handgun permits as a last resort.”
Ben Beaumont, director of communications with the University of Arkansas System, said Wednesday afternoon that a decision regarding the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff position on the gun law should occur later this month.
“The UA System Board of Trustees is expected to vote at its May 23 meeting on whether or not the UA System campuses will opt out of the concealed-handgun permit law,” Beaumont said.
SEARK President Steve Hilterbran warned that seven employees serving as career coaches in the four public school districts in Jefferson County are in danger of losing their jobs because of uncertainty over the continuation of grant funding for their salaries.
“These positions are funded through an Arkansas Works Career Facilitator Grant, and as of now, the funding will end June 30,” Hilterbran said. “SEARK is not allowed to fund these positions out of our budget.”
A program gained
The board approved a request from Linda Lewis, vice president for academic affairs, to allow SEARK to offer an online Associate of Arts degree.
“We feel this offering may bring us additional students,” Lewis said. “It will provide 60 hours of curriculum. We have found that many students who attend classes on campus also take online courses. This offering will enhance our educational offerings by giving students a choice of on-campus face-to-face instruction or online instruction.”
A program lost
The board voted to discontinue the Emergency Administration and Management program because of lack of interest.
“There are only four students still enrolled in the program and that is not enough to meet requirements,” Lewis said. “Students currently enrolled in the program will be given two years to complete it.”
The board approved the budget for the 2013-2014 academic year.
“We made conservative estimates to ensure that we stay within budget,” Hilterbran said. “We are trying to get our enrollment back up. We have 450 enrolled so far for the summer semester. We think we have a good budget and there is flexibility in it.”
Hilterbran said that the college is planning to spend $2.1 million out of reserve funds for one-time projects.
The 2013-2014 budget is set at $11,364,526, which is down nearly $300,000 from the 2012-2013 budget of $11,641,215.
The board approved personnel actions, including the hiring of Stephanie Ferguson as a cashier effective April 16 and Chemia Herron as a student recruitment specialist effective April 23; and the resignations of Derrick Holland as an institutional services assistant effective April 26 and Linda Lewis as vice president of academic affairs effective May 31.
Kaleybra Morehead will serve as interim vice president for academic affairs effective May 31. Amber Munnerlyn became an administrative specialist II effective May 1.
Debbie Wallace, vice president for fiscal affairs, presented the financial report for the nine months ending March 31.
Wallace reported that unrestricted revenues year to date were $9,355,484 with expenditures of $7,285,688.
Wallace reported year-to-date revenues for the prior year of $9,447,803 and prior-year expenditures of $7,299,543.