Ten more school resource officers would be required in order to fully cover all Washington County schools at an initial cost of around $94,000 each, according to the county sheriff.
Sheriff Ed Graybeal said Monday morning that proposed legislation in Nashville that would help local governments offset the cost of school resource officers is a good thing and may help add those extra officers.
“I think it’s great,” Graybeal said. “If we can get some help, you know. Once the initial cost of the equipment comes through and you drop back down to the salaries, it’ll help. Its an expensive program, but how much can you put on our children?”
State representatives Matthew Hill and Micah Van Huss and state Sen. Rusty Crowe met with Graybeal and Washington County Board of Education members Monday to discuss proposed bills regarding school safety and school vouchers.
The bill regarding SROs is called the Safe Schools Act of 2013. This act would provide partial funds for SROs to help ensure law enforcement agencies can make each school safe by having an officer present.
Graybeal told the legislators the initial cost for a SRO is a little more than $94,000, which includes salary, benefits, a patrol car, a weapon, a radio and training. After that, the cost would drop significantly because salary and benefits would be the only things to pay for.
Graybeal said a marked patrol car is important because it informs people coming on to a school campus that an officer is in the building and will deal with any trouble.
“It’s a big deterrent, because whoever is there, they’re going to already know they’re dealing with a police officer when they enter that school, so it’s good,” he said.
Currently, seven SROs work in the county schools. Two are full-time in the high schools and the others rotate between the other schools. The patrol division supplements that presence.
Graybeal said if he had 10 more deputies who could be SROs each school would be covered full-time. He is preparing estimates now for the costs of five and 10 SROs.
In the mean time, Graybeal said next month some of his deputies who are qualified to teach will go out to the county schools and instruct teachers on how to deal with an emergency situation. This instruction would include how to lock doors, get down and out of harm’s way and how to keep students together.
“And I’m kind of proud to be the first one in the nation to do this,” he said. “I think it’ll be good for us.”
Hill, Van Huss and Crowe also discussed the issue of school vouchers. Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed the Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would allow all eligible students — students eligible for free or reduced lunch and those attending a school that is in the bottom 5 percent in academic achievement — the opportunity to receive a scholarship to attend a private school of their choice.
This proposal and a separate one from a coalition group would likely be topics considered in the legislature this year.
Locally, elected school representatives have opposed the legislation because it could take money away from local schools to fund voucher programs largely in urban areas with failing schools. Locally, no schools are considered to be failing.
“I’m telling you, a lot of this feels like it is being designed for Nashville and Memphis schools,” Hill told those in attendance Monday morning.
A similar meeting to the one Monday was held for Johnson City school officials and board members Saturday morning.
Hill said he can not support either the governor’s bill or the coalition group proposal as they both stand.
Van Huss said he had the same concerns as Hill.
“I support school choice but I do not think I will be able to support this bill from the governor,” he said.
Because the governor is behind the voucher bill, it will have a lot of steam in the legislature. Crow said any final act that is passed must not be detrimental to local school systems.
“We’ll work it out and let him (Gov. Haslam) know there are grave concerns up our way,” Crowe said.
Many of those in attendance Monday expressed concern over funding for a voucher program. Hill said the scholarships would provide $7,500 for vouchers. He was concerned that the cost to administer the voucher program would come, in part, from local taxpayers who may not utilize the voucher system.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said that 100 percent of the county’s sales tax revenue goes to schools. In fact, county schools represent the largest chunk of spending for the county. The fourth largest chunk of spending is on debt service, and 90 percent of that is on schools.
“I just hope that our legislators are not responding in a knee-jerk fashion and seriously consider how this is going to impact” the taxpayers of Washington County, Eldridge said.
An earlier version of this story contained an inaccurate figure for the additional SROs Sheriff Ed Graybeal said would be required to fully cover county schools. He gave a clarification Tuesday morning to say he would need 10 additional officers. All other figures related to the costs of these additional officers is accurate.