School official’s plan would cut top staff to hire SROs

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By Beth Braden

School board member Rector Miller sees the passage of a state bill as a chance to assign school resource officers to eight currently unmanned schools in the district.
Under Miller’s plan, the district would eliminate the safety and athletic director position at the central office. Currently, Johnny Bruce holds that position with an annual salary of $65,842. Eliminating that position and combining the salary with the $206,000 already designated for school resource officers would provide funds for contracting with retired officers to patrol the schools.  
“It’s nothing personal, you just have to look at the position,” Miller said. “And Johnny’s a friend of mine.”
Hiring retired officers instead of full-time officers will lessen the burden on taxpayers.
“My main objective is I would love to see a uniformed officer, security personnel, anybody present in the elementary schools and the learning academy,” he said.
The state did pass a bill, known as the School Security Act of 2013, but provided no funding. The act does not mandate any action, but grants permissions to local education agencies about who can serve as a school resource officer.
The end result, however, is different than originally proposed.
When the bill was introduced, it would have allowed K-12 school personnel to possess a firearm on school property if three conditions were met: the individual maintained a handgun carry permit; was authorized by the director of schools; completed the 40-hour school policing training and used only frangible bullets. Frangible bullets break into pieces upon impact to eliminate collateral damage in close quarters.
When the bill was passed by the house on April 16, it was amended to include one more stipulation on who carries a gun on school property – the person must be a law enforcement officer, or have prior service as a law enforcement officer, and maintain peace officer standards and training certification, it said.
The POST certification is the potential hang-up in Miller’s plan, but is a needed amendment, according to the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department.
In order to maintain POST certification, an individual must work full time as an officer with a law enforcement agency.
“We’re still getting opinions and exploring the text of the bill,” said Campbell County Sheriff Robbie Goins.
The bill goes on to say that providing security or school resource officers by a sheriff will be considered a law enforcement function and not a school operation or maintenance purpose that requires the apportionment of funds.
Currently, there are six resource officers working at both high schools and the middle schools. Adding eight more POST certified officers to cover the elementary schools and the East LaFollette Learning Academy would cost an additional $400,000 per year, according to the sheriff’s department. It is one of the sheriff’s goals to have officers in each school, but it is unclear who would fund the money.
“Are we gonna just kick the can down the road and not secure these elementary schools or are we gonna dip into our undesignated fund balance or are we gonna send it to the county commission to fund it?” Miller asked.
Director of Schools Donnie Poston is waiting to learn more from the state before issuing an opinion or making concrete plans to guard the schools.
“We’re a long way from being on the same page, what we can afford to do,” he said.
On Sunday, Poston will travel to Nashville to learn more about the bill.
“We’ve all got to interpret exactly what we’re allowed to do,” he said.
Miller knows the plans might not be in place by the time classes resume in August, but he wants to work toward fully guarding the schools.
“I don’t even expect we’ll get this worked out before August,” Miller said.
The board of education will meet again at 6 p.m. on May 14 in the courthouse in Jacksboro.