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County to review SRO funding

Mary Hinds maryhinds@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 9:59 PM

The Wilson County Commission will meet Monday, and one topic sure to generate interest is funding school resource officers in every school in Wilson County.

Earlier this month, Sheriff Robert Bryan told the county budget committee he sought funds from the commission to fund eight more SROs to make sure every school in the county has one.

He asked the committee to approve $270,000 from the county's fund balance to fund the SROs until the end of the school year. After debate, the committee voted to recommend the commission fund the eight officers and then asked the county school board to fund four of them. Bryan reminded the committee part of the cost of the new SROs would be for training and equipment, which would be one-time expenses.

Mayor Randall Hutto and Commissioner Mike Justice each deemed the SROs as a top priority and felt the county needs to do whatever is necessary to fund the positions for the rest of the school year regardless of whether the county school board offers to help.

Budget committee members commissioners Jerry McFarland and Sara Patton both said they understood the SROs are needed but each questioned how they would be funded in the future.

Hutto also told the committee he was looking into alternative ways to help pay for new SROs, including the possibility of the state expanding the Basic Education Fund, and/or funds from Homeland Security.

In the end, the budget committee voted in favor of recommending the full commission release the needed funds.

Bryan said Friday he feels pretty confident the full commission will follow the recommendation of the budget committee.

"Everything's positive so far," he said, "judging from the input I've gotten from the committees and the school system."

Bryan said in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting in December, the topic of school safety is an easy sell to people who are responsible for keeping students safe.

"Everybody agrees," he said. "I was at a sheriff's meeting, and for every sheriff in Tennessee, this is a hot topic. It's a shame that it took what happened in Connecticut to make it one."

He said Wilson County, thanks to the previous efforts of former Sheriff Terry Ashe and Wilson County School Director Mike Davis, is ahead of the game with so many SROs already in place.

"We have a jump start on this issue," Bryan said. "For some counties this is going to be a big funding issue for them."

Like Justice and Hutto, Bryan thinks all other considerations are secondary when compared to students' safety.

Davis said he received a formal letter from Hutto requesting the county school board pick up the tab for SROs in the schools until the end of this school year. He was hesitant to speak for board members as to whether they would agree to release the money.

"I know Mr. [Greg] Lasater is very much in favor of it," Davis said. "I will recommend that the board approve spending $95,000 from fund balance to pay for four of the eight SROs."

Davis mirrored concerns of the commissioners who want the SROs but are worried about how they can be funded going into the future.

"I will recommend approval with the climate we're in today," Davis said. "I hope we can identify a revenue stream to sustain them so the board doesn't have to go back to the fund balance each year."

The commission and the school board have clashed many times over the years on the funding of various issues and initiatives, but student safety appears to be one issue where they are on the same page.

"If we work together, we can make it work for our kids," Bryan said.

The commission meets Monday at 7 p.m. in commission chambers at the courthouse.

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