Paxton opinion on classroom cameras could cost local school districts

Paxton opinion on classroom cameras could cost local school districts

By ROBERT STEIN

A recent Texas attorney general interpretation of a law about cameras in special education classrooms may spell an unexpected half-million-dollar expense for Amarillo Independent School District.

An opinion last week from Attorney General Ken Paxton broadened the scope of a law, passed in 2015, that requires districts to install cameras in special education classrooms should a parent, school staff member or trustee request it.

Lawmakers drafted the legislation in response to concerns that children in special education were being mistreated by educators.

According to its framers, the law was meant to be applied only on a classroom-by-classroom basis.

However, according to Paxton’s opinion dated Sept. 13, the way it is worded actually means that a single request requires districts to install cameras in all of its special education classrooms, possibly placing “significant financial burdens upon certain school districts.”

And Amarillo ISD has received a request, district spokeswoman Holly Shelton said. Shelton said Monday she was unable to provide details about who made the request or exactly when it was made.

School officials have estimated it will cost $500,000 to pay for cameras in about 75 classrooms to comply with the request.

Pati Buchenau, Amarillo ISD’s chief financial officer, said the district had not budgeted money for the law because of early indications that the expense for school districts would be minimum.

Paxton’s opinion, she said, “jumped the cost from $10,000 or $15,000, which we could handle in our maintenance budget, to half-a-million dollars.”

Buchenau said if Amarillo ISD must spend the money, district staff will have to ask the district’s board of trustees to allow it to be pulled from the general fund balance.

The current estimated general fund balance is $105.3 million, Buchenau said Tuesday.

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