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Adding SROs takes another step forward
Jan 18, 2013 4:10 pm
The Wilson County Commission Budget Committee met Thursday with funding school resource officers for elementary schools in Wilson County as its top agenda item.
A school shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December has since moved the issue of school safety to the front burner across the country with Lebanon schools funding SROs for its elementaries.
Sheriff Robert Bryan told the committee he was seeking funds from the Wilson County Commission to fund eight more SROs to make sure every school in the county has one. He asked for the committee to approve $270,000 from the county's fund balance to fund the SROs until the end of the current school year.
Committee Chair Mike Justice said he thought the county should commit to fund eight officers and then ask the Wilson County Board of Education to fund four of them. Bryan has said 12 SROs are needed to place at least one at each public school.
"If they won't, then we'll use the $270,000 to get the eight started," Justice said.
Bryan reminded the committee part of the cost of the new SROs would go to training, equipment and "getting them in place," which would be one-time expenses.
Commissioner Jerry McFarland asked how the county would fund the officers in the future.
"That's a very good question," Justice answered. "But this is top priority."
Wilson Mayor Randall Hutto said he had been in contact with other mayors, and all were looking into the possibility of the state expanding the Basic Education Fund, funds given to each county to fund schools, to include funds for school security. Another idea he mentioned was getting funds from Homeland Security.
Commissioner Sara Patton agreed that "we need SROs in every school, but I wonder how to fund them."
Justice said one of his constituents put it best, telling him "it's all the same county dollar."
"We just make sure this is funded first," Justice said. "This need surpasses all others."
Hutto said school board members had indicated they want SROs for every school, and he agreed the funds should "come off the top," and the budget be adjusted accordingly.
He said the most important thing was to get it done, and for the county commission and the school board not to play hot potato with the issue; "we all work together, both legislative bodies," it could be done.
McFarland was unsure of an open-ended commitment and the possibility the school board wouldn't agree to help fund the SROs, which could lead to a tax increase to fill the void, something to which he was opposed.
"We need a commitment early from the school board for next year," McFarland said.
With that, he moved to approve a commitment of $270,000 for SROs until the end of the school year, with the caveat that the school board committee help fund four of the eight officers next year, and requesting the school board help out this year as well.
Hutto said he would send a formal letter to the school board requesting it make that commitment.
Budget Director Aaron Maynard explained the motion was to fund the eight officers for the remainder of the school year and "hope the school board will come through for the funding of four of them."
With that, the budget committee approved using $270,000 from the fund balance, requesting the school board step up to fund four of them. The committee will take the request for funds to the full commission Monday night.
The school board's February meeting is expeced to have several county commissioners in the audience to see if the board agrees to pitch in, provided the full commission votes in favor of dipping in the county's fund balance for the plan.