Are the kids who attend outlying county schools as important as the ones who attend schools in the city limits? That was a question asked during Monday night’s Warren County Safety Committee meeting when the topic of funding school resource officers (SROs) for every school was debated.
Commissioner Les Trotman said there are presently five SROs who work within the school system. Two are stationed at Warren County High School, one at Warren County Middle School, and two float between the remaining eight schools.
Trotman said he had conferred with the county’s director of accounts, Linda Hillis, who said the salaries with insurance for five additional deputies to work as SROs would total $193,833.
Trotman said the officer stationed at WCMS would cover Warren Academy too.
Sheriff Jackie Matheny said the total quoted would only cover salaries and insurance.
“That does not include them having something to drive, weapons, uniforms, etc.,” said Matheny.
Trotman said, “If they use leftover cars, we won’t have to buy any. We buy five a year anyway. We can take the old five and turn them over. We don’t have to sell them. We can use them.”
Trotman continued, “I don’t want to be the one who calls a parent or grandparent saying, ‘Your child isn’t coming home today.’ Why are kids at Dibrell not worth full-time coverage but ones at the middle school are? If we are providing security for some schools, the kids in my district are just as important.”
Commissioner Charles Morgan said, “Why don’t we just give Jackie $1 million so we can have a deputy on Mud Creek Road in case something happens? We can’t run the county government scared. No one is arguing the kids aren’t important, Les, but it comes to money. Are we going to raise taxes? Where is the money coming from?”
Trotman said, “The fair has asked for an increase and we said no. Now we need SROs. We’ve been 11 years without a tax increase. Maybe it’s time for one. Maybe we need to pay an extra 2 or 3 cents. But, we won’t know where the money will come from until we put it in the budget.”
Commissioner Sally Brock said, “It is easy for me to say because I’m not running for office. But, I think we should have had a tax increase years ago, 1 or 2 cents.”
Matheny said, “I understand you have to come up with funds. To ask if the SROs are needed ... well, of course they are.”
Trotman said Director of Schools Bobby Cox had asked about the possibility of additional SROs to be contracted out.
“I have worked for private security firms. And folks, I’ll tell you some I’ve seen, I don’t want them with guns in our schools. There are people out there who want to play John Wayne and will shoot the lock off something. They need more than nine hours of training for something like this,” said Trotman.
County Executive John Pelham asked, “Why can’t they float?”
Trotman said they do float. “But, if they float, they are not in a school at any given time. At some point, a school is unprotected.”
Trotman said Phil Chalmers, a leading authority on teen killers who recently visited McMinnville, was adamant an officer is needed in every school.
“At some point, if we are going to be realistic and responsible, we need to bite the bullet,” said Trotman. “When you have a leading expert in the country saying we need it, the sheriff says we need it, principals and teachers want it, then we need to do it.”
Commissioner Ron Lee asked Matheny at which schools most problems arise which require an SRO. Matheny said most problems occur at the high school or middle school.
“Sometimes things occur in the county and officers have to go. But, right now the larger schools have more problems.”
Committee members agreed to schedule a joint meeting with members of the county Education Committee before making a decision. The joint Education Committee and Safety Committee meeting will take place today, June 4, at 5 p.m. in the conference room of the Administrative Building on Locust Street.