Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

January 28, 2014

BOE rejects SSO promise

Unnamed commissioner offered $200K to fund SSO in schools budget

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — At least one member of the Cumberland County Commission has proposed an "agreement" with the Cumberland County School System to fund a School Safety Officer program.

However, last month, the BOE voted unanimously to support a School Resource Officer program in cooperation with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department. Also, there is no record of this proposal of commissioners being approved in any open meeting of the Cumberland County Commission, nor discussion of a specific monetary amount.

Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative, said a member of the county commission, whom she did not name in the meeting, contacted her to see if the board of education would support an SSO program with a funding commitment by the commission

"He told me several county commissioners were seeking and getting additional support for this proposal to take to the full county commission," Brewer told the board. "It was basically they were willing to increase the funding to the board of education annually for $200,000. But, the restriction on that was that they do not want SROs. They're wanting the SSOs. He said they would prefer the school officers fall under our head of security, but they were willing to support a proposal and take it to the full commission for a $200,000 increase to our funding."

David Bowman, 7th District representative, was less than enthusiastic about the pledge of support.

"I think they're trying to get us to back off SROs so it will kill the whole thing," Bowman said. "This is the same county commission, and I don' t know who talked to you, but there were those who were pledging all kinds of support to us for SROs at the beginning of this whole thing, as long as we came up with some money.

"We came up the money and then they backed down on it. I really don't have a lot of faith in anything that they say."

Last year, the BOE approved $235,000 for a one-time expenditure to start an SRO program in cooperation with the Sheriff's Department. There are four deputies serving eight elementary schools this year; however, the funds have not been transferred to allow Sheriff Butch Burgess to replace those officers, leaving the department short-handed. The funds have been allocated, and the school's budget approved by the county, but the transfer could not take place without an interlocal agreement between the school system and the county.

That's been a sticking point as the two entities have been unable to agree on terms, such as liability and where funds are budgeted, either in the schools or the Sheriff's Department budget. Commissioners have also questioned using SSOs, School Safety Officers, who are school employees under the supervision of the school safety director, which in other counties have been hired at a lower cost than using School Resource Officers who are deputies employed by the Sheriff's Department. The commission and the board of education have both supported full-time officers of some type in all Cumberland County schools, as opposed to officers splitting their time between schools.

Director of Schools Donald Andrews has proposed a meeting between the county and school attorneys, Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey, Burgess and himself to work out the details of the interlocal agreement and move the process forward.

Thursday, members of the board reiterated their support of the SRO program.

"It's not just about security," said Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative. "It's about building relationships with children."

Janeway noted SROs could provide a link to information in circumstances where a child's parent was arrested the night before or the child was dealing with unfortunate circumstance the school might not be aware of. The SRO also helped to reinforce the idea that police were not the "bad guy," as some children might be taught to think.

"By building that relationship, those kids have a comfortable feeling that, if something is going on, they can talk to him," Janeway said. "It's not about having a security agency person out there who changes every three weeks. There is no relationship. There is no personal contact that goes on. Really, that's one of the key things about an SRO."

Last month, the board discussed the positive aspects of the SRO as being experienced officers, with Burgess pledging officers with at least five years' experience. The SROs attend specialized training to be certified SROs, as well as continuing education.

Brewer added the commissioner told her that, should the board not be interested in an SSO program, they would not pursue it further.

Bowman and Janeway noted the board had voted last month on the SSO vs. SRO issue, with all in favor of implementing a full-time SRO program in all schools.