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INDEPENDENCE — The Grayson County Sheriff’s Department received a grant from the Criminal Justice Services Board in June to add full-time school resource officers (SRO) to both Grayson Highlands School and Independence Middle School, but discussion at the last Grayson County School Board meeting could change that.
The Grayson County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to fund the two SRO positions in a meeting June 27, but the grant requires Grayson to provide local effort funding, which would increase each year until it fully funded the positions on its own.
In the first year, the local match would be based on the Department of Education’s Composite Index of Local Ability-to-Pay, meaning the county and school board combined would be responsible for 33 percent ($25,309) of the salary and benefits of these two positions the first year. In year two, the local match would drop to 25 percent ($18,943) before increasing to 50 percent ($36,943) in year three, 75 percent ($59,901) in year four and 100 percent ($73,653) in year five.
The supervisors approved a funding plan to pay 20 percent of the local match of the salary and benefits, while the school system would fund 80 percent. The county would also pay 100 percent of the operational expenses, like vehicles and uniforms.
Superintendent Kevin Chalfant made it clear he did not agree with the supervisors’ decision on how to fund the positions at the school board’s meeting July 8.
“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 school board.
“The Board of Supervisors voted to give the school system $25,000 [on top of the school board’s $25,000 match] toward safety and security,” he continued. “By comparison, Carroll County Board of Supervisors gave their school system $250,000 for the same kind of safety improvements to their facilities, and that was on top of the more than $1.5 million above required local effort toward the general fund.”
Chalfant argued that the board would not be able to both fund the positions and make the desired improvements to the schools’ facilities, such as installing cameras and a buzzer system and purchasing two-way radios. “The issue could be resolved if the board of supervisors would put as high a priority in school resource officers as we did in the budget process,” he said. “Both budgets are now set, so unless the board of supervisors is willing to help out with additional funds, we’re kind of limited in what we can do.”
In funding the positions, the 80 percent contributed by the school board would be $20,247 the first year, $15,154 the second year, $29,255 in year three, $43,921 in year four and $58,922 in the fifth year.
“We’re willing to work with [the supervisors] and find a more acceptable compromise,” said Chalfant. “We’ve offered to pay for one resource officer’s salary, but can’t do both. Hopefully we can work out an agreement where we get the extra resource officers and we get enhanced facilities that will keep students as safe as possible because we believe in an all of the above approach.”
Grayson Sheriff’s Input
Sheriff Richard Vaughan said he thought the school system was “getting a bargain” and hoped the school board would come to an agreement with the supervisors so the grant would not be lost.
Vaughan said the sheriff’s department worked hard to secure the grant and he would hate to see the funds go to waste.
After the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Vaughan said he received many calls from parents, principals and even school board members asking for increased security at schools.
“School security is not my primary responsibility, but it is one of my top priorities,” he said. “If something did happen at Grayson Highlands and there wasn’t a deputy in the area, you’re looking at at least a 20 minute response time, and most school shootings take less than five minutes.”
Vaughan explained that, in addition to the new full-time SROs at Grayson Highlands and Independence Middle, Grayson County High School and Fries School would each still have their full-time officers on duty. He said the officers at GCHS and Independence Middle School would split time at Independence Elementary, and a fifth officer would split time between Fairview and Baywood elementaries.
Records from the sheriff’s department revealed that from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2012, Grayson SROs totaled 2,835 juvenile contacts. Investigator Doug Carner, who compiled the statistics, stressed that those actions were mostly simple interactions like breaking up arguments and stopping students from running in the hallway, but deputies and resource officers also conducted 163 juvenile investigations, answered 181 service calls to the schools and even made one arrest.
Additionally, SROs spent a considerable amount of time instructing students in safety and anti-drug and violence programs.
“Statistics tell us there’s never been a mass shooting at a school that had a uniformed resource officer there,” said Vaughan. “Look at Sandy Hook – they had all the modern security locks, cameras, doors – they had all the physical security features, but they didn’t have a resource officer there present. I think it’s the most important thing to do first is to get a security officer there and then add the rest of the security features on second.”
All Eyes on the School Board
The school board is scheduled to hold its next meeting Aug. 12 and is expected to make a decision on how to proceed with the funding of the positions.
Vaughan said if the positions are funded, his department will issue a memorandum of understanding to the schools and their principals to outline the duties of the SROs and what kinds of other assistance they can expect from the sheriff’s department.
He said the school board has less than 60 days to implement the SRO positions.
The sheriff said he hopes to have the officers in place before the 2013-2014 school year begins this fall.