Warren County hopes to receive a grant to fund six additional school resource officers (SROs) which would put one in each school with two at the high school.
The school system currently has five SROs, two at the high school, one at the middle school and two who float between the remaining eight schools.
If the grant is accepted, Warren Academy would not have a full-time SRO but the officer stationed at Warren County Middle School would be available if needed. The officer stationed at Bobby Ray Elementary would also be within one-half mile.
“I don’t think anybody disagrees we would like to have more SROs in our schools. It’s just a matter of how we fund it,” said Director of Schools Bobby Cox as he addressed members of a joint county meeting of the Education Committee and the Safety Committee Wednesday night.
Cox said he is in the process of applying for a federal grant.
“The grant is a federal grant from the National Institute for Justice. The name of the grant is Developing Knowledge About What Works to Make Schools Safe. The grant is a research-based grant to try help schools improve safety,” said Cox. “One of the parameters is you must have a research partner to go along with you. It can be like a state department of education or a criminal justice agency with experience in conducting research evaluation.”
Cox said 25 percent of the funds have to be used for research. Cox said he has contacted the state Department of Education, which has a division on school safety.
“I asked them if they would be willing to be our research partner and they said they would,” said Cox. “I also contacted Mark Gwen at the TBI to see if he might be a partner with us. He is looking at the information. So that would be two huge partners to be able to apply for this grant if they both agree.”
The grant is a 100 percent grant which means no matching funds are required. The grant is also a three-year grant which means, if accepted, the six additional SRO salaries would be funded for three years. After three years, the county or school system would need to pay for the SROs if they are to remain in the schools.
“We would like to pick them up in our budget if we could. But truthfully, we just can’t,” said Cox. “We are on stability funding right now. Economically, the school system just can’t pick it up.”
The deadline to apply for the grant is July 10. The funding will not flow until September. If approved, the newly hired officers must undergo 10 weeks of police academy training before being placed in the schools.
The grant minimum amount which can be applied for is $500,000 and the maximum is $5 million.
Cox said, “I don’t see a downside to it. I think it is a win-win for everybody. I know we would like to have them right now. But, even if we put it in the county’s budget, we would still be until September or after before we could have them employed because of the 10-week training.”
County Executive John Pelham said, “There is always an opportunity with grants that we may not get approved for this. If we are not approved, obviously it is going to be too late to do anything in this year’s budget. So, I assume that will be a topic of discussion for next year. If we are approved, and once you put these SROs in the schools, it is likely not something you are going to want to take out. So, in three years, there is going to have to be a plan of some kind to fund it.”
Both the county Education Committee and Safety Committee voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of Warren County Schools applying for the federal grant to improve school safety.
Members of the Education Committee present at the meeting were Commissioners Terry Bell, Joel Akers, Morris Bond, Clinton Hill and Diane Starkey.
Members of the Safety Committee present were Commissioners Teddy Boyd, Sally Brock, Ron Lee and Charles Morgan. Commissioner Les Trotman was absent but was contacted on speaker phone. Trotman did not vote.