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Meeting set on budget for county schools

Friday, April 19, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Henry County School Board will have a special meeting at 2 p.m. Monday to finalize its fiscal 2013-14 budget with $266,343 less county funding than it had requested.

At budget hearings Monday night, the Henry County Board of Supervisors decided not to restore any of the funding that was cut from the school board’s request (or cut from any other department or agency’s request) for fiscal 2013-14 because, county officials said, money would have to be taken from another department if it was added to the schools’ budget.

The county budget proposed by County Administrator Tim Hall leaves local funding for the school division at $16,577,895, the same as this fiscal year. The county school board had requested a total of $16,844,238 in county funds, an increase of about $266,343, or 1.61 percent.

Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton and school board Chairman Joe DeVault expressed disappointment Tuesday at the supervisors’ decision not to restore funding for schools, especially the approximately $152,000 needed to add three school resource officers for the division’s 10 elementary schools.

DeVault said the school division has made a lot of budget cuts in the last several years and increased class sizes. “At some point, there’s nothing else to cut,” he said.

Cotton said he will propose Monday that the school board make up the $266,343 not funded by the county in the same way he suggested at the board’s meeting April 11. At that time, he suggested eliminating the addition of three school resource officers, which would save $152,825. He also suggested eliminating the addition of a clerical position to assist in the budget/finance and human resources areas, which would save $55,193. Those two items would save a total of $208,018, and the rest would be made up through projected savings in the utilities budget, Cotton said.

“We have a bare-bones budget. We’ve cut and cut and cut over the last several years,” he said. He added that it’s a challenge to continue to strive to provide a high quality education when it costs more and more to do that.

Cotton said school officials collaborated with the sheriff’s office to develop a plan to provide additional security for schools, and the result was the proposed addition of three school resource officers for the elementary schools. “The sheriff would have preferred four,” Cotton said. “A lot of time and thought went into developing that plan. ... It’s a little frustrating.”

The school division already has made safety improvements, including safety audits, safety drills and more secure entrances, and the additional resource officers would complement these steps, Cotton has said.

“We’re real disappointed. We thought it was a legitimate request to fund those positions,” DeVault said.

Cotton and Sheriff Lane Perry said Tuesday they feel adding the resource officers is the best way to improve school security.

Perry said the county can’t fund the additional resource officers without cutting funds somewhere else in the county budget, and the sheriff’s office doesn’t have enough manpower to provide the additional officers.

Answering 48,000 calls for service a year — almost 1,000 calls a week — and housing an average of 185 inmates a day, the sheriff’s office’s manpower already is stretched, Perry said. “We can’t pull from our ranks (to provide) extra resources there (at schools).”

“We would hope the schools would find money for this. I think it is an important project. They generally have surplus funds (at the end of the fiscal year),” Perry said.

Perry gave a number of reasons why he thinks school resource officers are his “first choice” for improving school security. “I think school resource officers are more accepted in schools. School resources have become the norm.”

One of the suggestions at the supervisors’ meeting Monday night was that retired law enforcement officers be stationed outside of schools. “I would rather have a person inside the school, tactically speaking,” Perry said. He said a school resource officer is armed, wears a bullet-proof vest, carries an impact weapon, has instant communication by radio and is trained in the most current techniques. According to online information, a baton is an example of an impact weapon.

“The school resource officer model is working and working well” in Henry County schools, Cotton said. They not only provide security but also serve as role models, he said.

Perry said he considers a number of alternatives to hiring school resource officers that have been suggested to be well-intentioned and good ideas, but they are “Band-Aid” approaches. But, he added, “We will look at anything that possibly can help students and teachers to feel safer in schools.”

One of the ideas suggested at the supervisors meeting Monday night was parking police cars outside of schools as a deterrent, which was proposed by Ridgeway District Supervisor H.G. Vaughn. Mike McPeek, a retired Virginia State Police trooper, asked the school board Jan. 3 to consider using retired law enforcement officers and retired military personnel to help increase security in schools in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and he spoke briefly at the supervisors meeting Monday night.

Also, there have been news reports about a unique partnership between Plain Elementary School and Simpsonville (S.C.) City Police, and a similar partnership in Jordan, Minn. According to a “Today” show broadcast link on Greenville County (S.C.) Schools website, Simpsonville police officer Justin Chandler patrols the halls of Plain Elementary every day, but he is not a school resource officer. The town pays Chandler. “All I need from the school was a desk and a WiFi,” he told “Today.”

In Jordan, Minn., about 45 minutes south of Minneapolis, the police chief proposed a plan to set up satellite offices in public schools, and the plan was unanimously approved by city council and the school board, according to MSN News.

“Officers will conduct some of their daily work from the schools, including taking calls and filling out paperwork, while still going out into the community to patrol or respond to emergencies. The hope is the armed officers, with their squad cars in school parking lots, will discourage — or meet — any would-be attackers,” MSN News reported.

Cotton suggested that if approaches such as those were not feasible in Henry County, maybe a modified version could be used, such as having sheriff’s officers stop at school parking lots when doing their paperwork or some other concerted effort to increase police presence at schools. Virginia State Police troopers already are stopping by schools, he noted.

Perry said he doubted that would be feasible for the sheriff’s office because of its heavy workload.

As for the idea to park police cars on campus as a deterrent, Cotton, Perry and DeVault indicated they thought that would not be effective long term. “I believe having a vehicle parked outside could work to a point, but once people realize no one is inside, that would lose its effectiveness,” Cotton said.

Cotton said the legality of using retired law enforcement officers at schools would have to be researched. Perry said he thought it would be legal if the school board decided to do that.

Cotton said all options need to be looked at in collaboration with the sheriff’s office, which he said has been great to work with.

“I just wish we could some way add security,” DeVault said, adding that is not to say schools are not secure now. Many years ago, security was not even an issue, but now funds from other areas of the school budget are being diverted to security, he said.

Henry County Sheriff’s Lt. Col. Steve Eanes said recently that the plan to add three school resource officers to serve elementary schools would have cost a total of $304,000 a year, split between the sheriff’s office and the school division. The sheriff’s office would have paid the costs of additional vehicles, equipment, training and some other expenses.

The school board meeting April 22 will be in Summerlin Meeting Room on the first floor of the county administration building.

 

 
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