The Cumberland County Board of Education took a close look at how to provide Student Resource Officers in each of its schools during a work session March 28.

Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess had previously presented a plan that would provide nine officers for the schools. The county, city and school system would split the cost of purchasing cars and the salaries for the officers three ways, with each entity providing about $180,000.

"I think the basic thing we need to do is decide if this is something we want to do," Burgess told the board. "I think it is extremely important that we have an SRO program in our schools. You have some of the best teachers in this county as anywhere, but they're there to teach. In today's society, there are a lot of pressures these children are having to deal with through their home environments and things like that that now is the time you're going to have to have some preculiar partnerships. And law enforcement and education is one of those things.

"The need is there. The homes some of these kids are coming out of, it's hard to concentrate. You feed them breakfast because some don't get breakfast at home. What we're doing is providing a sense of security they don't get at home."

Presently, the Crossville Police Department provides SROs for Cumberland County High School and Martin Elementary School, and the department has plans to provide a second officer for Stone Memorial High School next year.

Burgess proposes six additional officers. He proposed an SRO for CCHS, SMHS, Homestead, North and Pleasant Hill elementary schools. Stone and Martin, Brown and South and Crab Orchard and Pine View elementaries would share an SRO. A ninth officer would be available as a fill-in officer as needed at any school.

Burgess also suggested an executive committee consisting of representatives from the city, county and school board could oversee the SROs, and an advisory committee could be set up to keep the executive committee informed on individual school concerns and needs.

Burgess suggested running the program as a task force, similar to the way the county and city formed the E-911 Board. The school system would fund three positions on this task force, but those officers would not be considered employees of the school system.

"It's something I see as being doable," Burgess said. "I'm trying to push this because if we said right now let's do this, we would still be pushed to get this going by next school year."

Burgess also said the city and county could look at a revenue source to earmark for SRO funding.

Many on the board were supportive of having the officers in the school, but the question of how to fund the program brought considerable discussion.

Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, said, "Both the sheriff's department and the school system are funded by the county commission. Would it be cleaner for both of us if that money, which is allocated by the county commission anyway, did not flow through either of our budgets?"

Burgess said that was correct. Burgess did not ask for the three SRO positions in his annual budget this year.

"What I want to do is be able to approach the county commission and find a funding source to fund this with," Burgess said.

Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, said, "It doesn't matter where the money comes from. It's all taxpayers' money. I could care less where the money comes from as long as we get the positions."

Robert Safdie, 2nd District representative, suggested a public referendum for the public to vote on funding the SRO program in the schools.

"We can ask the county commission that in addition to the expenses for the new school and the expenses that we have are required by the state, to fund SROs as part of that package," Safdie said. "I'm not sure to ask them for an additional $180,000 without getting some sort of vote of confidence from the public to do this."

Tom Netherton, 6th District representative, suggested Burgess put six SRO officers in his budget.

"I think we muddy the water when we say, 'OK school board, put that in your budget,'" Netherton said.

Burgess said unity between the three entities was necessary to make the program successful. Burgess also said his budget was stretched as it was.

Burgess suggested the three groups sit down together to work out the details of funding the program. Safdie suggested the BOE set a meeting with the county commission school and education committee and invite the city to attend as well.

The BOE will discuss a date for that meeting at its April 6 regular meeting, as well as a resolution supporting an SRO program in county schools.

Other requested expenditures for next year include an additional $122,500 for instructional supplies, $62,500 for additional maintenance expenditures, $150,000 for construction of security entrances at elementary schools and fencing at the CCHS campus, and $77,000 for additional capital outlay expenses.

Also discussed was the possibility of funding more of the family insurance premium for noncertified employees. A survey found 168 noncertified employees said they would be interested in family coverage. To make their costs equal to what certified employees pay would mean a budget increase of more than $900,000.

A 1 percent salary increase for teachers would take about $180,000. This is a negotiated item in the teachers' contract. Also, the board had previously stated it wanted to provide an equal salary increase for noncertified personal. That would cost about $39,000.

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