The Washington County Board of Education on Thursday voted to support the decision made by both the County Commission’s Safety Committee and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to put a school resource officer in every school in the system.
The motion, which was made by Board member William Brinkley, sends the issue of finding the necessary funding — which totals nearly $1 million — back to commissioners.
At a Safety Committee meeting earlier this month, Sheriff Ed Graybeal said it was going to take an initial cost of $979,069 to add 10 SROs to the ranks of the Washington County Sheriff Office. Those additional SROs would take the total number to 16, allowing each school in the county to covered by an SRO.
The initial cost breaks down to about $98,000 per officer. A little more than $41,000 covers an officer’s annual salary and benefits. The remaining costs are related to a vehicle, weapons, uniform and other equipment.
The Safety Committee approved a motion to fund the additional SROs. At the Budget Committee the following day, commissioners agreed the issue should be sent back to the Board of Education so they could iron out details.
As Thursday’s discussion turned toward having additional SROs in county schools, Director of Schools Ron Dykes gave the board an overview of what the school system has done over the last decade in the area of school security.
“This Board of Education hasn’t waited until the first school shooting occurred to initiate safety procedures. We’ve been very proactive on safety and security for a very long time — well over a decade,” he said.
Much of what the school system has done to increase school security has included working with security firms to install video surveillance, creating crisis management plans, installing secure entry systems and adding six SROs to cover the county’s 16 facilities.
Two SROs are stationed at each of the high schools, while the other four rotate between the other schools.
“It was this board’s intent and we began last year of eventually having the concept of having an SRO in every single school and the board was going to phase that in hoping to budget additional funding to assist the sheriff who would delegate those,” Dykes said.
One of the questions that loomed since the Safety Committee meeting was whether the county school system would have to share funds with Johnson City Schools when it came to funding SROs.
Board member David Hammond read a memo from Clayton Byrd, legislative attorney for the Tennessee General Assembly, who said the county would not be required to share those funds with the city since the county SROs are funded through the operating budget of the Sheriff’s Office, which is funded by the County Commission.
Byrd wrote that the city system would be authorized to use school tax funds or non-classroom BEP funding for SROs.
“The bottom line, according to the state of Tennessee ... school resource officers are commissioned police officers by that local law enforcement agency. They are not school employees. We do not hire deputies. We do not train deputies,” Hammond said.
The big question that remains is how the county will fund the additional SROs, which will be decided by the Budget Committee.
“We find money for everything else in the county for capital projects or whatever. ... I’m not saying that an SRO will be able to stop evil — you’ll never stop evil — but the more barriers from locks, technology to an SRO, an armed police officer in those schools, I don’t see how anyone could really oppose it,” Hammond said.