County, Schools Say Goal Within Reach Of Having Officer At All 77 County Schools

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

County and county school officials decided Wednesday that the goal of having an officer in each of the 77 county schools can be attained.

Sheriff Jim Hammond said he can supply 32 School Resource Officers and will work to exceed that number. Those will cover the high schools and middle schools.

School officials said they have hired 19 School Safety Officers and are optimistic they could hire more if funding came available. The amount needed was listed at $1.9 million. 

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the county sales tax came in $1.5 million higher than expected for the past month. He affirmed that if the schools can hire the needed additional safety officers that the county would come up with the additional money with a budget amendment.

School Resource Officers have extensive training and work to mentor students in addition to other duties.

School Safety Officers were described as "security guards" who carry a weapon.

Sheriff Hammond said SROs are preferable, but he said SSOs would also be effective in providing campus safety. He said he would not be able to come up with a full complement of 77 SROs and that the SSOs could fill in the gap. He said, "I think you have to have the hybrid system at the end of the day."

Justin Robertson, county school chief operating officer, said the school system initially hired 10 SSOs, then began hiring for nine more based on funds being released by the Sheriff's Office. He said the nine have been hired, and several more on ready to come on board pending funding.

He said, "It will probably take us into the fall or early winter" to have enough hired to cover every county school.

Sheriff Hammond said the city had been supplying funds for an officer at Brainerd and Howard high schools, but he said there had been no indication from the new administration that this funding would continue.

Mr. Robertson said the schools earlier spent millions of dollars to "harden" the campuses so that there would be very limited access to the schools while students are present. 

Commissioner Tim Boyd afterward said the budget should be amended to cut out some supported agencies to help make up the needed $1.9 million.

He said, "Knowing the information below allows the Commission to consider reducing or eliminating the amount of funding some of the supported agencies receive over the course of the next year by amending the budget as suggested by the Mayor this morning when we were discussing hiring more SSO's and needing another $1.9 million.  We can find $1 million of that amount by reducing the funding for some of the 'Supported' agencies, eliminating READ 20 (which is a totally redundant service now being provided at no cost by two State supported organizations) and reallocating these same funds for the safety of our children and grandchildren.  This would place another 15 SSO's in our schools  and closer to reaching our goal of 100 percent coverage of safety officers in our schools without raising our budget or taking funds from the reserve.  

"Let's just ask ourselves, and as elected officials be honest with our constituents, what is more important; fully funding the Chamber,  fully funding the Humane Society, providing a service that the State already provides, or providing our public school children and faculty with safer schools?"

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