Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

December 26, 2013

County seeks long term SRO/SSO plan from BOE

By Gary Nelson
Senior staffwriter

CROSSVILLE — The county's schools and education committee met earlier this month to discuss an interlocal agreement between the county, school system and sheriff's department.

However, there were not enough members of the committee present to make a quorum, making the meeting a work session to discuss thoughts. Since there were not enough members to hold an official meeting, no action was taken.

Charles Seiber, 4th District commissioner, moderated the discussion.

"I guess I'd like to hear from the school board to get their opinion on SSOs (security officers hired and managed by the school system) or SROs (deputies placed in schools and managed by the sheriff's department)," Seiber said.

"Well, our discipline reports are down. Having an officer there has calmed parents down. I didn't think we needed an officer there before, but now that we have had one, I wouldn't want to go without one," said Michelle England, principal of North Cumberland Elementary.

Donald Andrews, director of schools, said, "I'm speaking for me and not the (school) board, but I would rather have SROs. With the SSOs I don't feel comfortable getting in the business of supervising law enforcement and I'm unsure of the liability it would bring."

Seiber said he had 35 years of law enforcement experience and not one BOE member had come to him to ask his opinion.

"SSOs can have the same authority as SROs. The main difference is a $400,000 difference more for SROs and the county will wind up with the bill," Seiber said.

Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner, said, "I'm all for the program. My problem is with this agreement, it all ends at the end of next June. We've got four new vehicles that will be in surplus. It doesn't make any sense."

"I agree. I think this was just a short-term agreement to get through this year, to get to a long-term agreement," Andrews said. "This is short range."

"I feel we need it at each school. The committee ought to be working to see what happens on July 1. I think we need to get this signed and work on a plan for after July 1," Joe Koester, 5th District commissioner, said.

"It makes no sense to spend $100,000 on three vehicles that could be surplus next June. That's what this agreement says," Lynch said.

"Folks, this is just a draft of what was already written. Mr. Patton (BOE attorney) and the mayor have not even seen it. It's not final. I've added signature lines for the commissioners. It's not a final, it's just a draft," Cumberland County attorney Randal Boston said.

County commissioners said they didn't understand why new cars had to be purchased for the four SROs as part of the agreement between the sheriff's department and the school system.

Several commissioners said they would rather see officers at all of the schools, rather than split half-time between the eight elementary schools.

The agreement between the school system and sheriff was for the school system to pay the sheriff's department $233,828 for the three SROs and new vehicles and the sheriff would supply one deputy, for a total of four.

Sheriff Butch Burgess has placed four deputies from the road, who were active on duty in the communities where the schools are where they were placed.

Commissioners tabled taking action on a budget amendment resolution for the Cumberland County Board of Education transferring the money from the BOE's budget to the sheriff's budget in order to fund School Resource Officers (SROs) after several questions arose among commissioners regarding the possible financial commitment that could be required from the county in the future. That was during September's monthly county commission meeting.

The amendment is for $233,828 and was budgeted by the BOE to go toward paying for SROs for the 2013-'14 school year. The amendment was approved county's budget committee in September.

As of now, the school system has not paid the funds to the sheriff's department because the amendment to transfer the funds was tabled by the county commission.

After a lengthy discussion during the work session, commissioners urged the Board of Education to come to them with a long-term plan for the future of SROs or SSOs in the school system.

"I think the school board ought to come up with a long term plan and go through the school budget," Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner said.

Seiber agreed.

Sonya Rimmer, 8th District commissioner, agreed and said she would rather see more people than cars.

"The county should be the ones to worry about the cars," Rimmer said. "I'd like to see a proposal from the school board."

"I won't vote for it if the plan doesn't include putting an officer in every school," Roy Turner, 7th District commissioner, said.

Several commissioners agreed.

"I think we need to let the school board come forward with a plan," Koester said.

"If the school board puts it in our budget, are you going to want the school board to pay for it, or are you going to give us more money? I guess we'll find out at budget time," Jim Blalock, 8th District BOE member said.

Committee members Brian Houston, 1st District; Jan McNeil, 5th District; Larry Allen, 6th District; Jeff Brown, 8th District; and John Kinnunen, 9th District, did not attend the meeting.