School board agrees to risk assessment
By Karen Sells
During a called meeting last week, Board of Education members expressed a variety of concerns regarding a proposal for a third-party risk assessment of safety needs at Washington County schools.
Mayor Dan Eldridge offered to reallocate $84,000 from his budget, contingent upon approval from the county commission, to pay for the assessment.
Last month, the Joint Education Committee authorized Eldridge to provide a written proposal to the school board.
A resolution for a School Safety Risk Assessment was tabled during the March 25 county commission meeting pending a response from school board members.
“Before we start implementing security measures, we need to assess each school, knowing the threats and vulnerabilities are unique,” Eldridge said. “It doesn’t exclude (hiring more) school resource officers, but it could tell us additional things to do.”
Board member Phillip McLain argued $84,000 is a lot to spend with an outside agency for an assessment.
“Not as much as $2 million,” Eldridge replied, referring to the start-up costs to add 10 new SROs so one could be assigned to each school, which has been the only suggestion offered by the board to increase security at schools.
“Before the commission is asked to appropriate that amount and the recurring $1.4 million (annually), it’s very important for them to have an independent assessment that validates the vulnerabilities and risks,” he said.
School board member Todd Ganger asked if the commission is aware there will be costs after the assessment. “I don’t want to have it and then sit on it because we can’t afford (to implement it).”
Eldridge said if both parties are serious, all options have to be considered, knowing there will be extra needs.
“I am familiar with what the school system has done since 2007, and this is not an accusation of inadequacy,” he said.
According the Eldridge, the assessment offer also is no reflection on the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
“Law enforcement and tactical security are two different worlds,” he said.
Board member Chad Williams said his initial reaction to the assessment has changed.
“I had my reservations at first, but the more I’ve thought about it, I don’t see how it couldn’t help us,” he said.
Jack Leonard wasn’t so sure.
“I can see (a scenario) where SROs are listed lower on the list, and when we say we want to move them up, this will be used to say we need to do other things first,” he said. “I think that’s why this assessment is coming about, but that’s my personal opinion.”
Bill Brinkley, chair of the BOE Safety Committee, made a motion to accept the offer of a $6,000 assessment of each county school, contingent on approval by the county commission. The motion was seconded by Mary Lo Silvers and passed unanimously.
If the commission gives its approval, Eldridge will give BOE members information on Harrell Strategic Group, which has done other work for the county and could conduct the assessment.
Board member David Hammond said the most qualified firm should be used, and Eldridge assured board members they have the option of looking for another company.
Dykes asked what would happen if the BOE chose a company that was more expensive.
“This is the amount I’m taking to the Budget Committee for approval,” Eldridge said, referring to the $84,000 figure in the proposal, which was an estimated cost offered by Harrell Strategic Group.
Williams said the Safety Committee would want to have a workshop with the company that is chosen.
“I’d like to say this is a smart move,” Chair Clarence Mabe said. “We need to study our weaknesses to grow stronger.”
Silvers asked about a timeline, and Eldridge said they would need to move very quickly so the onsite assessment could be completed while school is still in session.