School safety is an important thing. That's simple.
Figuring out a way to ensure school safety — that's when things get more complicated.
With the Tennessee School Boards Association sending the Cumberland County Board of Education proposals for board policies, the policy committee sent a proposal for policy #3.205 on security to the safety committee for further discussion.
At the Oct. 23 meeting, Orville Hale, 8th District representative and safety committee chair, moved to send the proposal to the BOE for approval, saying there's little choice but to agree to the added SRO guidelines.
After the 2007-'08 budget is approved, Hale said the committee should recommend the board communicate with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department to figure out a way to fund the SRO coordinator position with the position being under the supervision of the sheriff's office.
Hale elaborated that since some elementary schools are out of city jurisdiction an SRO from the sheriff's office could act as coordinator for the elementary schools and one of the officers already policing the high schools for the city could act as the high school coordinator.
According to Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle, the city has informed the BOE that if more support is not shown by next year for the city officers already policing schools, officers would be pulled from monitoring schools.
In the 2007-'08 budget, the BOE set a line item of $39,300 for the salary of a School Resource Officer coordinator, which the board intended to hire through the sheriff's office. The BOE had wanted to fill the position with someone having a background in both law enforcement and education, according to Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle.
"We want an educator in there, someone who knows school law and school rules," said VanWinkle. "But we also want someone who could coordinate with the Sheriff's Department and police department… We're not in the police business. We're in the education business."
Charlie Wilson, a reserve officer for the Sheriff's Department, has been mentioned most consistently concerning which officer would fill the position.
Crossville Police Chief David Beaty responded, "If you will read the [TSBA's] recommendations, the SRO is first and foremost a police officer… If you got that money, it looks like you'd utilize it for a certified police officer to be an SRO."
Acknowledging the BOE's desire for the SRO coordinator to act as a liaison between the school system and the law enforcement agencies, Beaty said the SRO is already a liaison since he works between the principals, the director of schools, the police department, and the community.
VanWinkle pointed out the state does not fund an SRO position. Beaty asked about Safe School money. The DOS informed him that Safe School funds don't accumulate enough to go toward an SRO position.
Beaty explained it's close to a $100,000 expenditure to furnish two SROs for a 10-month period. The officers are trained during the other two months when schools aren't in session.
When looking at the TSBA's recommend policy, VanWinkle noted her concern with the SRO being under the employment of the law enforcement agency.
"If the school system is going to reimburse, then I don't think you should be the boss," she said. "If they're going to work for the school system, they need to be responsible to the building supervisor."
Beaty brought up a potential difficulty in that situation. If disciplinary action needed to be taken upon a certified person, he or she would be entitled to due process, he explained.
Beaty then noted in past years the school system has reimbursed the police for monitoring the schools.
Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess said he didn't see the county granting enough positions through the budget to have an SRO at every elementary school. He added he had presented different ways for having SROs at the elementary schools, even ways for funding it, but the county commission has never approved his proposals.
Beaty added, "If a kid got killed in school, I think some elected officials would take a different view on it."
"The county commission has guaranteed we'll have SROs in Cumberland County schools. The problem is, are they going to do it before or after something happens?" Burgess asked.
Beaty recommended using the $39,300 salary to pay an officer to cover all the schools.
"It may be a band-aid, but it's a start," Beaty said.
Cumberland County High School SRO Larry Pugh said, "We've been very fortunate to not have any incidents. But if we did have one, it'd cost this county more than 10 years of SROs."
Hale said, "Why the county commission won't listen is beyond me, but I think we're going to have to do something as a system… We're going to have to step up to the plate with the city or they're going to take that away. And we can't afford that."
Burgess added, "Just to be honest, if you gave us the money, I don't know whether the county commission would let me have another man."
At the close of the meeting, VanWinkle reported the BOE has ordered security cameras which should be installed by Christmas.
School safety is an important thing. That's simple.