One member of the Cumberland County Board of Education was displeased with the approved budget, saying it did not do enough to ensure the safety of students and personnel in the schools.
"In all the discussions we've had about the budget, the most important thing wasn't put in there — school safety," said Gordon Davis, 5th District representative. "That should have been first and foremost before any budget was approved. School safety, we worked on that for two years. We worked hard. But guess what, schools are no safer than they were two years ago."
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, questioned why Davis was voicing his frustrations at such a late date in the budget process, following a 5-4 vote of the school system's budget earlier in the meeting.
SRO officers are in place at schools within the city limits of Crossville, provided by the Crossville Police Department.
Last year, the school system budgeted $233,000 for the first year of a county-wide SRO program; however, transfer of those funds to the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department was never completed as the school system and county commission were unable to develop an interlocal agreement. The county had worried transfer of the funds would increase its required maintenance of effort funding for the sheriff's department.
Sheriff Butch Burgess assigned four officers to county elementary schools this past school year, dividing their time between the eight schools. Since the funds were not transferred, he was unable to hire additional deputies to replace those offers on the road or to purchase any equipment. He has not proposed continuing the program, though his term will end in September following the August county general election. Burgess is not seeking another term.
Stone said the $233,000 budgeted last year will be rolled forward into next year's school budget. Also, he said the sheriff's department had recently applied for a grant that could allow the department to add four more SRO officers in the next year, for a total of eight officers.
"I'm pretty confused by that comment," Stone said to Davis.
Davis said, "Let me ask you this, how have we improved it? What have we done to make schools safer?"
Stone said, "I think the SROs make the schools safer."
Davis said, "I know, but they're not funded, are they?"
Stone said, "We've got the money sitting there."
Davis said, "Why hasn't that been done? That should have been done before anything else. School safety should be number one in this county."
Stone said the timing of the election did make it difficult to get a memorandum of understanding and interlocal agreement in place.
"Part of it is because of the grant that has been applied for. The grant was just applied for this month. We're not going to know the outcome of that for a couple of months."
Davis broke in, "There again, to get back to the point, how are schools safer this year than they were last year? What's been done by the county commission, the board to make schools safer? You've had all kinds of people making comments that they wanted schools safer, but it hadn't been done."
Stone said, "Why didn't this get brought up when the budget was still being developed instead of after it was approved?"
Davis said, "It should have been brought up before the budget was ever started. The one thing in this county that's most important is school safety, and school safety has not been a priority and you can't tell me it has. The schools are not safe because there is nobody in place to make them safe."
Stone said, "Why didn't you bring it up while the budget was being developed? The budget's been approved now."
Davis said, "We've made recommendations out the wazoo and it's fell on deaf ears. That's the bottom line."
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said he had questioned keeping the $233,000 in the budget because of the trouble in developing an interlocal agreement with the county.
"We may be sitting here with $233,000 budgeted this time next year," Janeway said.
Davis said, "What good is it if it's not being implemented? That's what I'm saying."
David Bowman, 7th District representative and a deputy with the sheriff's department, said next year was still up in the air, with the grant being applied for and the election in August.
"I hope it does go through," he said.
Davis said, "There's nothing been done to make schools safer, in my opinion, this year than last year or the year before. And anybody that's on the county commission or the board of education knows, the way things are, that you need kids protected in schools. There's no excuse. It should have been done first. School safety is number one. I guess that's why I'm so disappointed. That's one of the reasons why I voted against this budget is for that very reason."
Stone again asked why the discussion on school safety was taking place after the budget was approved.
Stone said, "It doesn't make sense to me to be brought up now when you haven't..."
"We've made recommendations for the last two years, put it in the budget. It hasn't changed nothing," Davis said.
Brewer said she had encountered great support for an SRO program in the school system.
"Right now might be a good time for the board members to encourage all of their constituents in their district," Brewer said. "There's a lot of people running for county commission. I've got four in my district. And every one of them should be faced by a parent. We should ask them where they stand and let them know that we support SROs 100 percent in this county. We've got to start there, at the funding source. The board can't do it alone. You can't go with just the sheriff. I think the county commissioners, and we've got a lot of them out there wanting to set on the county commission, let's make them know we support SROs."