By Brandon Martin
Members of the Henry County School Board were asked to reconsider the cut of three additional School Resource Officers (SROs) in the fiscal year 2022 budget.
“The proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 included a plan for adding three SROs to begin a phased system of dedicating coverage in the elementary schools,” Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said at the March 4 meeting.
“I was surprised to hear it had been cut out and I’m here to ask for it to be reinstated in the budget,” Perry said.
Currently, his office provides a school resource officer at each high school, middle school and the Center for Community Learning. Perry’s proposal would add three officers to serve three elementary schools each during the first year, and the division would add three officers over the next two years year until there is an SRO for each of the nine elementary schools.
“While I understand balancing budgets, I think we’re in a day of needing full coverage in our elementary schools. We at least need minimal coverage, as the three would provide,” Perry said.
Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer said state grants used to help pay for the positions, but in recent years, the fiscal responsibility has been solely on the local school boards.
Dr. Ben Boone, director of finance, said the proposal would cost the schools $600,000 when fully implemented.
“We pay approximately $70,000 per resource officer,” Boone said. “If we did three next year, we’d be looking at about $200,000 and then if you are looking at the year after, and the year after, we are talking about a total cost of about $600,000.”
Strayer said the sheriff’s department also provides funds, but the fiscal impact is still heavy on the schools.
“It gets back to the appropriations coming, where are they coming from and who is asking,” she said. “When we say we are paying the money, the sheriff’s office always says they are paying the in-kind funds from their budget because they provide the officer with the equipment and things like that to equal the pay. We are providing the salary and all of the other essentials.”
“I don’t think anybody on the board is opposed to more resource officers. I think the hang up has been funding,” Dr. Merris Stambaugh, of the Collinsville District, said. “I would encourage Sheriff Perry to go to the funding body on our behalf. I think we would be more than willing to support more school resource officers if we had some shared responsibility from the funding body.”
Perry said his department regularly responds to incidents in schools.
Some are “routine calls; however, some were more serious such as assaults, sexual assaults, weapon violations, disturbances, drug violations and child pornography,” Perry said, and shared the call history from the nine elementary schools in the division.
“When we did this, we only used weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” he said. “During those hours, 1,055 calls have been at our elementary schools since 2010, resulting in 110 criminal reports taken on property. At one of our elementary schools within this chronicled time, we’ve already had one close call. A person called in one day and said they were on their way to the school to pick up their two children, commit a double homicide and then commit suicide.”
“If we are going to say it’s about school shootings, then fund them all. Fund them now and do it in one shot,” Teddy Martin II, of the Reed Creek District, said.
“Another thing for me is those statistics were broken down over 10 years and nine schools. Were there trends? I want more information,” Martin said. “If I split it out further and take 1,000 and divide it by 10 (years) then I’m down to 100 (calls). If I divide it by 10 schools, then I’m down to 10 (calls). If I divide it by 10-months, then I’m down to one (call).”
Perry recounted a personal story of when he was asked to respond to an event happening at a school while he was dropping his child off for the day.
“I was immediately directed towards the office where an irate parent was going off inside the office on the school administration,” Perry said. “The school administration and school staff do not deserve to be treated like this. I have an idea that more events like this are happening than we know about and even minimal police presence will prevent this.”
Stambaugh said he is open for a discussion about adding the officers, but the division also has other priorities.
“We obviously cut things from our budget year after year because we don’t get adequate funding. If this is an important enough issue for our board, our community, and our board of supervisors, then I think we should have a discussion about it,” Stambaugh said. “It’s difficult when we are struggling to provide raises for school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and cutting things to make it happen then having something as important as this also be on the table.”
Martin said mandates from the state also take precedent.
“You have the added layer of these state mandates where you are mandated to give this five percent raise, you’re mandated to do this and that,” he said. “We are legally required to do it and if we spend too much, we can go to jail.”
In other matters, the school board:
*Heard an update on the division’s plan for returning to school. As of the most recent survey, Strayer said only 32 percent of elementary students have elected to stay virtual. Another 36 percent of middle schoolers and 42 percent of high schoolers have also elected to stay with virtual instruction.
In addition, Strayer said 642 staff members have been fully vaccinated, with another 40 having received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
*Approved $8,037,504.61 of grant funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act – Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II funds to be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for appropriation.
The funds will be used to address learning loss among students and school facility repairs and improvements to enable operation of schools to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure.
*Renewed a one-year contract for $42,000 with Pierce Group Benefits for employee benefits broker services.
*Awarded a bid for $898,500 to Steve Martin’s Trenching Inc., for site work construction for the new Transportation Facility.
*Approved a reallocation of $ 293,917 from 2020-2021 CARES Act funds to go towards the nutrition budget.
*Recognized the month as Equity in Education Month and adopted a policy to memorialize the division’s support of promoting equity in school.
*Recognized Donna Hicks as being a finalist for the CodeVa Educator of the Year.
*Recognized Claire Smith and Emily Williams as finalists in the Eastman Oratorical Competition.
*Recognized students who participated in the Region 3D Forensics Tournament.
*Recognized the Bassett High School Band for receiving All-District Honors with some students receiving All-State Honors.