Committee recommends five new SROs in Hawkins schools

Jeff Bobo • Jul 29, 2013 at 10:22 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County principals are concerned about the safety of their students, their faculty and themselves on school grounds.

Some principals told the Hawkins County Commission’s Budget Committee Monday that parents and other adults come to their school drunk, high on drugs, or acting “unreasonable.”

It takes the attention and focus of faculty and the principal away from the task at hand, which is teaching children.

The county commission’s Budget Committee was presented Monday with a new school resource officer (SRO) hiring proposal which cuts the original proposal by more than a half million dollars.

Following a lengthy discussion Monday morning the committee voted to recommend that the full commission approve that proposal to hire five new SROs at a cost of $222,000 which will be paid from the county’s undesignated fund balance. The new plan leaves all but four schools in Hawkins County with at least part-time SRO coverage.

The Budget Committee also voted to recommend that the 2013-14 county budget proposal with no tax increase be considered for approval by the full commission on Aug. 26.

The Budget Committee met all morning Monday discussing various budget issues. But the only major change regarding budget spending was the SRO proposal.

Coming into Monday’s meeting the proposed budget projected Hawkins County to end the 2013-14 fiscal year with $2.817 million in reserves.

Deducting the cost of new SROs will reduce that reserve fund to just under $2.6 million.

Committee member Virgil Mallett noted that the cost of the new SROs would amount to about 3 cents on the property tax rate.

As a recurring expense, Mallett noted that the SRO program will deplete the county’s savings over time if no new revenue is added. The SRO plan approved Monday was much less expensive than what was originally proposed, however.

Following the school shooting late last year in Newtown, Conn. the county commission was asked to fund the hiring of 11 new SROs, which would put one full-time officer in each county school for an estimated recurring cost of $758,000.

County commissioners concerned about finding a way to pay for those new positions on an annual basis hadn’t offered much optimism about the original plan being approved.

The new plan presented by Sheriff Ronnie Lawson Monday calls for four new SROs and one SRO supervisor to be hired at a recurring cost of $222,000 to the county.

Those new officers would be added to the five SROs currently serving Hawkins County schools.

With the current SRO staff there are full-time deputies at both main high schools, as well as at Clinch School.

Two other officers currently split their time among three schools each — including one who covers Bulls Gap, Rogersville Middle and the alternative school; and one who covers Church Hill Middle, Church Hill Intermediate, and Surgoinsville Middle.

Under the new proposal Clinch , Volunteer and Cherokee keep their full-time SROs, and Mooresburg and Carters Valley elementary schools would receive full-time SROs as well.

Five SROs would then split their time between two schools each including one at Church Hill Middle and Church Hill Elementary; one at Surgoinsville Middle and Surgoinsville Elementary; one at Rogersville Middle and the alternative school; one between Bulls Gap School and St. Clair Elementary; and one between Keplar and McPheeters Bend elementaries.

Lawson noted that the four remaining schools without SRO coverage are in cities, including Mount Carmel Elementary, Joseph Rogers Primary, Hawkins Elementary, and Church Hill Elementary.

City police departments have agreed to check in on those school regularly, along with his road deputies, Lawson added.

The plan is for SROs at those final four schools to be addressed in the 2014-15 budget.

Several principals attended Monday’s Budget Committee meeting including Thomas Floyd from St. Clair Elementary who pointed out that his school has an average emergency response time of 18-22 minutes.

“Should an intruder come onto the property or into the building, that response time is critical,” Floyd told the committee. “I want to say one word, and I want you to think immediately about what comes into your mind. Columbine.”

“We think about those things happening in other places, and they do happen in other places, but those things can happen here in Hawkins County too.”

Mooresburg Elementary principal Rhonda Walker noted that her school is less than a mile from the Bean Station pharmacy where the robbery and “execution style” shooting deaths took place recently.

Walker said she has parents coming to school on drugs and her school is badly in need of a full-time officer. Mooresburg Elementary had a lockdown recently and it took 23 minutes for an officer to get to her building, Walker added.

Hawkins County elementary supervisor Beth Holt told committee members that security concerns distract school administrators and faculty from the task of educating students.

“If you can imagine how it feels to be out in the boondocks, 25 minutes away from help knowing somebody is going to be at that door, irate, unreasonable, many times incoherent,” Holt said. “It’s scary.”

Holt added, “It’s the world we live in. People are just not reasonable at times. We’re dealing with it day after day after day. We have parents coming in to get kids who don’t belong to them, we have parents coming in inebriated, and we have parents coming in unreasonable.”

The new SRO plan was approved 6-0 with one abstention. Commissioner Stacy Vaughan said he abstained because he is an employee with the sheriff’s office, not because he is opposed to the plan.

The 2013-14 school year begins Monday in the Hawkins County School System.

HCSO Chief Deputy Tony Allen told the committee that if the budget is approved at the Aug. 26 commission meeting, the new SRO plan could be implemented as quickly as mid-September.

Director of Schools Charlotte Britton said that when the Board of Education meets Thursday it will also consider paying for an additional SRO, which would bring the total of new hires up to six. The cost of that additional SRO would be just shy of $33,000 per year for the BOE.

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