Putting a school resource officer, or SRO, inside every school in Washington County has become priority number one for the County Commission’s Safety Committee.
At a special called meeting Tuesday night, Director of Schools Ron Dykes and Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal addressed the committee on the future of SROs in schools — a topic that has been on the minds of many following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month.
“School resource officers are the quickest and the safest means to do what we need to do,” Graybeal told commissioners.
There are currently six SROs that serve Washington County Schools. Two officers are stationed at each high school, while the other four officers rotate to the remaining schools throughout the week.
“Those SROs are deputies. They are employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. They’re not our employees. We provide about a $30,000 safety grant to the sheriff’s office, plus we budgeted an additional $50,000 last year,” Dykes said.
That $80,000 the school system provides to the sheriff’s office takes care of about one SRO, according to Dykes.
The Washington County Board of Education has been trying to add SROs to its schools by attempting to add two a year.
At that rate, it would take five years to put SROs in each of the county’s 14 schools, plus its alternative learning centers at Asbury and Midway.
Even if funding were in place to see that done, Graybeal said it takes eight to nine months for each officer to undergo the specified training and tests required to become an SRO.
Commissioner Mike Ford asked Dykes and Graybeal if they were satisfied with the rate at which they are moving to add SROs to the schools.
“I want to see one in each school. I want to see us do that. We need to do that. Are you guys satisfied if we can keep the rate up where we are now?” he said.
Dykes responded by saying “the sooner, the better” in order to ensure safety.
Committee chairman Roger Nave asked Dykes for his opinion on having armed teachers and staff in schools.
Dykes said law enforcement should be the only armed individuals in a school due to the high-quality training officers receive.
I know that some individuals would like to have armed volunteers on campuses. I certainly appreciate their passion. That can be as dangerous, however, as the invasion itself if the wrong tactics are used,” he said.
Commissioners asked Graybeal to come back to next month’s Safety Committee meeting with the actual cost of what it would take to put an SRO in every school.
In the meantime, the committee voted to give $3,000 to the sheriff’s office for an armed intruder response training program offered through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The sheriff’s office will work with school faculty and staff during the program.
The entire cost associated with the training will be about $8,000. The remaining $5,000 will be funded through a Homeland Security grant.
Dykes also presented the committee with information about installing Tyler Technologies’ Versatrans Global Positioning System to the county’s bus fleet.
Versatrans GPS includes hardware and software that records detailed reports on bus maintenance, route planning, speed-monitoring, on-board diagnostics, audible alerts for drivers and driver behavior.
The required startup costs to install the system on each of the county’s 123 buses would run $47,552, with a recurring annual fee of $34,865.
Commissioners said they will look at funding options for adding the system to buses, but no action was taken.