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INDEPENDENCE – Despite the pleas of citizens, the Grayson County School Board chose to take no action at its Aug. 12 meeting on a pending grant that would provide two additional School Resource Officers to the division this year.
Last month, the Grayson Board of Supervisors approved a funding plan to pay 20 percent of the local match of the salary and benefits to add the SRO positions to both Grayson Highlands and Independence Middle schools.
The approval came after notification from the county sheriff’s department that a grant from the state Criminal Justice Services Board had been received.
Like most state grants, the money required a matching portion from the county – a number that increased annually over a four-year period until the county would be required to cover 100 percent of the salaries and benefits. Supervisors agreed to pay 20 percent of the match on the salaries and benefits, while covering all operational expenses such as cars and uniforms.
During its meeting last month, the school board took no action and Division Superintendent Kevin Chalfant made it clear he did not agree with the supervisors’ decision on how to fund the positions.
“Our initial budget plan prepared for the board of supervisors included a request for $120,000 for school safety, part of which would go toward additional resource officers and part toward facility improvements to enhance safety,” Chalfant told the board in July.
When supervisors approved the 2013-14 budget, the plan included $25,000 for school safety and security, but it required the school board to spend an additional $25,000 to get the money.
Chalfant said last month that the school board would not be able to fund the positions and make the desired improvement to the schools’ facilities, such as installing cameras at point of entry into each school.
Citizens Make Their Case
During the public comments portion of the Aug. 12 meeting, three citizens pleaded with the school board to find the funding somewhere.
Tim Donley spoke first and asked the board to “do whatever it takes to get the school resource officers approved.”
While school attacks are actually quite rare, Donley pointed out that the division needed to be prepared to protect the schools in a worst-case scenario.
Donley compared the situation to preventing house fires. While a house might never catch fire, people still put smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in their homes, he said.
“I believe the best protection we can have for our children is a certified law enforcement officer [on site],” Donley added.
Since nobody else can carry a weapon on school property, there is no other line of defense for potential attackers when they enter the school, he said. “Criminals may not know much about our locks or cameras and such, but that marked patrol car outside sends a clear message.”
Donley said having an SRO on site is beneficial not just for protection, but also for assistance with events and classes and to act as a good role model for the children.
SROs help the kids grow up and build a good relationship with law enforcement, Donley continued.
“I urge you to do whatever it takes to make this work,” Donley said. “If I didn’t think we had the money for it, I wouldn’t be here asking for it. I’d ask you to please do this for us.”
When Food City employees take deposits to the bank, they have a police officer with them, Donley continued. When museums move paintings, they have armed guards with them. “Our kids are much more valuable than money and art.”
Up next to speak was Donley’s wife, Amy.
Beyond echoing her husband’s concerns, Amy Donley added that SRO positions do much more than just provide protection. They run the DARE drug prevention program, teach gun safety, teach Standards of Learning, assist with disciplinary issues and work on anti-bullying programs, she said.
“Kids get to know these officers as people and not just as a uniform,” she continued. “It leads them to see law enforcement in a different way. It’d be a real shame to turn down free money.”
Ken McFadyen is a father of two children at Grayson Highlands, one of the schools that would’ve received an SRO through the grant funding.
McFadyen said when he found out there might not be an SRO at his children’s school this year and learned about the long response time for officers to get there in case of an emergency, he was up all night.
“I believe every school should have an SRO,” he continued. “We live in a different world.”
McFadyen compared the recent school shootings – particularly the most recent at Sandy Hook Elementary – to 9/11 for school divisions.
While he didn’t want to draw too much attention to the topic and give anyone the idea to attack a school in Grayson, he said it was important to discuss this and move forward.
One of McFadyen’s biggest concerns was the 25- to 30-minute response time to get an officer from Independence to Grayson Highlands. “[That] is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
Having worked in local government, McFadyen said he understands what it’s like to balance a budget, but urged the board to find the funding somewhere.
“There are those priorities that pop up and won’t go away and stare you down until you do something,” he said. “There are lots of things involved in school safety… but this one piece is of critical importance. I would encourage you to give it serious consideration.”
Following the public comments section of the meeting, the board did not discuss the SRO positions any further.