By Heather Mullinix
Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess plans to submit a supplement to his annual budget to allow for eight School Resource Officers for Cumberland County Schools. He sees an opportunity to connect an SRO program with his Drug Endangered and At Risk Children Team, the DEAR Team.
"That would work excellent with those people in and out of the schools," Burgess told the Cumberland County Board of Education safety committee at a meeting April 10. "We know the background on a lot of these kids. There's no way of sharing information. That way, if you've got DEAR officers doing that, you'd be able to."
The sheriff's budget estimates include hiring eight new officers, plus training, equipment and vehicles, and training eight experienced officers to serve as SROs in the eight elementary schools in the county. Total cost for the first year is $623,540. The cost for the program the second year is $280,432 and $290,948 the third year.
Burgess said, "I'll present this as a supplement to our budget and say 'If you want to have SROs in the schools, this is what it's going to take.'"
David Bowman, 7th District representative, said, "The first year will be the most expensive. That's not an outrageous number for the safety of our kids."
The eight SROs would cover schools located outside the city limits of Crossville. The city of Crossville currently provides SROs to Cumberland County High School and Stone Memorial High School.
Severals bills had been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly this year to assist schools with security issues.
"About six bills were introduced," Burgess told the committee. "None of them are good, but they could make a good bill with parts of them."
Burgess said one bill had promoted the state providing funding for new SROs.
"I don't want us to get committed and then the state come in and say 'We're going to pay for them if you don't already have them,'" Burgess said.
Currently, no additional state funding has been provided for hiring school safety officers.
"Ideally, we just jump in and do it," Burgess said of an SRO program. "There needs to be something happen. There's a lot of different avenues we can do so that we can have something. If they don't approve it, we'll need to figure something out."
Should the full program not receive funding, Burgess said there may be other options to provide greater security to schools. Additional overtime, at a cost of $32.09 per hour, could be used to allow certified deputies to work in the schools on their days off.
The estimated cost is $47,493 per school, in addition to current salaries.
A bill had been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly that would have allowed part-time, temporary, reserve or auxiliary police officers and special deputies to be school resource officers in elementary and middle schools. The House version of the bill was taken off notice for the calendar in the education committee and is assigned to the general subcommittee for the Senate education committee.
Burgess said, if the legislation were successful, he could use part-time officers to work in the schools, at a cost of $20,717.60 per school for the school year.
Burgess said a certified law officer brings more than just security to the schools.
"When we were teaching DARE, there would always be a student or teacher or principal saying, 'Can I talk to you about something,'" Burgess said. "And we're getting a large number of calls from the schools with irate parents there."
The Tennessee Sheriff's Association conducted a survey of SRO programs across the state. Sixteen counties that responded to the survey said they had no full-time SRO program in place at this time. Of those with full-time programs, answers varied as to having officers in every school on a full-time basis. Some counties reported the funding for the SRO program was split between the school system and the sheriff's office, with school systems reimbursing the sheriff's office for expenses. Others were funded entirely through the sheriff's office budget.
Campbell County suffered a school shooting in 2005 that left one administrator dead and two others wounded. An SRO program was instituted after the tragedy, with the program now covering one middle/elementary school, three middle schools and two high schools.
In the comments section of the report, Campbell County said, "Of course, with the Newtown shootings, it has restored debate to having more [SROs], but funding issues are the main hindrance."
Some counties provide part-time coverage of schools, with officers rotating through the schools.
Franklin County has approved hiring eight additional SROS and is in the process of hiring and training new officers.
In Dyer County, there is one SRO in the high school, funded by the board of education. There is consideration for increased funding for an SRO program. In the meantime, the report states deputies have been instructed the schools are the priority in their patrol districts. "When possible, they are providing additional coverage at the elementary schools and have encouraged and expanded our Lunch with Kids mentoring program while a resolution is being sought."
Burgess plans to discuss the proposal with the emergency services committee of the Cumberland County Commission. He is scheduled to present his budget to the Cumberland County Commission's budget committee May 2.