Local News

Story published: 02-26-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Board of Ed: Funding SROs is sheriff’s job

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

Washington County Board of Education members are in agreement: school resource officers should be assigned to every school — and someone else needs to pay for them.

During a called meeting Feb. 21, board members discussed their involvement in providing safety measures for the system.

“I want to be clear, the lead was taken by the Board of Education a long time ago, not starting tonight,” Todd Ganger said.

Director of Schools Ron Dykes said the board has worked with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and private security companies for years to explore options available to ensure student safety.

“Most were cost-prohibitive,” he said. “Also, the logistics associated weren’t very functional for a school. It seemed more like a compound.”

Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Dykes said he has received many offers of help from community members to volunteer.

“They are very passionate about wanting to be armed and protect the students,” he said. “I am not in favor of armed volunteers, staff or even a security company (employee).”

Board member David Hammond, who also has been contacted by local residents, read a statement from Homeland Security indicating SROs are the only individuals who should be armed in schools, and it is irresponsible to arm teachers and administrators who don’t have specialized training.

Dykes said the need for more SROs has been discussed in many committee meetings. “It is this board’s intent to have an SRO in every school and budget dollars to the sheriff’s office budget because they are their employees,” he said.

Board members didn’t seem to agree.

“We shouldn’t have to fund them,” Keith Ervin said. “We’re not hiring police officers, we’re hiring teachers. The sheriff needs to take care of (hiring SROs).”

Chair Clarence Mabe also saw funding the SRO positions as the WCSO’s responsibility. “The sheriff’s job is to keep citizens safe in the community,” he said.

Board member Jack Leonard said he wished the SRO program had been in place when he was a principal.

“It’s needed, and it needs to be funded,” he said.

The school system budget currently allocates $80,000 for the SRO program.

Costs to add 10 SROs have been estimated at $2 million for the first year, with a recurring annual expense of $1.4 million, which includes funds that would be legally required to be given to the city school system. When the county spends money on education, it is required to give a percentage to the Johnson City school system.

Hammond questioned the requirement in the case of hiring SROs, citing a letter from Clayton Byrd, a legislative attorney for the Tennessee General Assembly, which indicates the shared cost requirement only applies to funding through the school system.

The letter cites a precedent involving Shelby County and the Memphis City School System in which the attorney general said nothing in the statute entitled the Memphis city system to funds for SROs.

Bill Brinkley made a motion, seconded by Ervin and passing unanimously, to support the county’s Public Safety Committee and the WCSO efforts to provide SROs to all schools.