By Crystal Burns
After lengthy discussion, the Gibson County Special School District board voted Thursday to hire five new School Resource Officers (SRO), one of whom will split his/her time between Spring Hill and Yorkville schools.
South Gibson County Elementary and Middle schools will also share one SRO.
During public comment at the beginning of the school board meeting, Mack Zarecor, a Yorkville commissioner, criticized the board for not including Yorkville and Spring Hill on its list of SROs.
The district has received state grant funding for up to five SROs to be placed in schools that have never had an SRO. The board asked Director of Schools Eddie Pruett to approach other funding bodies to help cover the district’s portion of each officer’s salary. The grant pays up to $35,000 per officer. The district estimated $20,000 per officer for the remaining salary and received commitments from the Kenton Special School District to split that cost for an SRO at Kenton School, City of Dyer for Dyer School, Town of Rutherford for Rutherford School, and City of Medina for one of the South Gibson County schools.
The district already has a fulltime SRO at Gibson County High School and South Gibson County High School and splits those salaries with the county.
Zarecor said that it would take over half of Yorkville’s tax revenue to cover $10,000 of a potential SRO’s salary for the school. He said the board was irresponsible to apply for a grant without knowing exactly how the district could fund it.
“I think this needs to be looked at,” Zarecor said. “Somebody said this was a done deal. A wise man looks back at things and sees if he’s made a mistake, and I think you’ve made a mistake.”
Pruett said when the board began discussing hiring additional SROs about three years ago, the idea was to split SROs between schools in close proximity. Gibson County Sheriff Paul Thomas, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said he suggested Spring Hill and Yorkville share an SRO because with those schools’ class sizes being so small, he didn’t think a deputy would want to work at either school fulltime.
Then the state announced the SRO grant. Thomas said Governor Bill Lee’s idea is good, but he should have put the burden on law enforcement to ascertain where SROs were most needed and how to fund the positions.
The state will not allow the district to use the grant funding to hire SROs to be used by more than one school, throwing a kink into the original plan. Since the district applied for and received the grant, the state has frozen the funding, so the district would not be able to apply for another SRO to put officers in all eight of its schools.
Maintenance of effort
Another challenge for the district is not knowing if the state will provide the grant one year or 12 years. Thomas and Gibson County commissioners have expressed concern with maintenance of effort – keeping the SROs on the county payroll if the grant is not renewed.
Thomas said he doesn’t see the governor cutting the grant, but he would not release any deputies if the grant is eliminated. Pruett has had conversations with Commissioner Michael Longmire, chairman of the budget committee, and spoke to the county commission recently. He and Longmire discussed the district and commission splitting the cost of the new SROs if the grant is eliminated in the future.
In the end, the board voted 6-0 to proceed with the state grant to hire four new SROs, hire one SRO to be split between Spring Hill and Yorkville with the district funding the position, and amend the budget by $52,857 to cover the new cost. Board member Charles Scott was absent.
Dana Welch, who made the motion, advised Pruett to reach out to the other funding bodies involved in the SRO positions to let them know of the addition of the Spring Hill/Yorkville SRO. Pruett said he would also send a revised letter to the county commission, stating that the district would take full responsibility for funding the four SROs if the grant is ever eliminated.
GCHS and SGCHS will keep their fulltime SROs. SGCES and SGCMS will share an SRO, and Spring Hill and Yorkville will share an SRO. Dyer School, Kenton School, and Rutherford School will each have one SRO.
Thomas selects the deputies for the SRO program but asks for input from Pruett and the school principals to make sure officers are good fits for the respective schools. Thomas also provides for all equipment and training. The SROs are officially employees of the Gibson County Sheriff’s Department, with the school district and/or other funding bodies reimbursing the department for the salaries.