Board to increase share of school resource officer salary

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By Meaghan Downs

The Anderson County Board of Education will now be paying a little more out of pocket to keep the sheriff’s office school resource officer Paul Blackhurst at Anderson County High School.
The school board unanimously voted in a special-called meeting Dec. 6 to double the resource officer’s current salary reimbursement from 25 to 50 percent for about $25,000 total.
The decision does not give Blackhurst a pay increase.
Sheriff Troy Young appeared before the board stating he and board members weren’t “on the same page” at the Nov. 19 meeting when he made his first request.
Young added that since the board was looking for a compromise regarding the increase, he would change his request to a 50 percent reimbursement as opposed to his first request for 75 percent.
“I hit you all in the middle of a budget year,” Young said at last Thursday’s meeting. “What I would propose is 50 percent to help finish out your all’s budget.”
Young listed a variety of programs and services that the sheriff’s office and the school resource officer participate in, including the DARE fishing derby, Shop With a Cop, Buckle Up Bearcats and traffic control, as well as statistics regarding juvenile arrests in Anderson County —where two school resource officers serve — as opposed to Mercer County’s arrest statistics. Mercer County does not employ a school resource officer, Young said.
The city police department employs its own school resource officer, Officer Joe Saunier, who serves in the Anderson County Middle School.
“We’re in and out of the schools all the time,” Young said, adding that the office had three sheriff’s units in the schools several times a week.
Board member James Sargent, who was absent at the November board meeting, asked Superintendent Sheila Mitchell and Finance Officer Nick Clark if any program in the school system would be jeopardized if the board granted the increase.
Mitchell and Clark asserted they could find funds to meet both a 50 percent and a 75 percent salary reimbursement.
“I have found the funds available and no programs will be cut,” Clark said.
Sargent said Anderson County hasn’t had really bad problems in its schools.
“Maybe the reason why we haven’t had these problems is because we’ve had presence with the sheriff’s department and the police department,” he said. “I hate paying high prices like everyone else, but that’s life.”
School board president Roger McDowell said that’s his point. He doesn’t see any change in revenues being cut from the state and he is concerned about being able to sustain the teacher’s recent pay raises for the district to remain competitive.
“They’re a valuable resource, I’ve got nothing negative to say about their performance,” McDowell said of the school resource officers. “This, in my opinion, is not about the performance of our SROs. This is about money. His budget is getting squeezed, our budget’s getting squeezed. And one thing we have to look at, we’re going to have to prioritize. Because you can only have what you can pay for. We can’t keep running deficits like our federal government.”  
Sargent responded, saying he understands what McDowell is saying, but that staff and student safety is “our No. 1 priority.”
 “Just because we don’t have an SRO in the schools all the time doesn’t we don’t care about the safety of our students,” McDowell said. “If we didn’t have an SRO in our schools, we have a problem, we call 911, they show up, just like they would in any other situation.”
“A lot of the time it’s too late,” board member Steve Higgins, who mentioned the school board held a similar discussion about school nurses eight years ago, said.
“If we can afford it, that’s the way I look at it.”
“We need to plan out this from the get-go,” Hahn said, who later made the first motion to approve a 50 percent increase to finish out the year. “Allow for these kinds of funds for this service.”
Board member Scott Brown said keeping a school resource officer in the school allows teachers to teach.
“I would sleep a lot better at night thinking we’ve got a police officer,” Sargent said.
The city of Lawrenceburg stopped being involved in the SRO program in 2005, Young said, when it was picked up by the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.
Since 2005 the school board has been reimbursing the sheriff’s office 25 percent of the resource officer’s salary.
The salary reimbursement will be funded by money originally budgeted for Energy Education management fees, Clark said, which the board finished paying in October 2012 through its four-year agreement with the energy conservation program.
The 50 percent salary reimbursement will cost the district about $25,000 total, Clark said. As of Tuesday morning, Clark did not have the exact amount, he said via e-mail, because the sheriff’s office sends an invoice for the SRO bill on a quarterly basis.
Young also asked for the school board to consider a total 75 percent salary increase for the resource when planning next fiscal year’s budget in July.
McDowell said although he appreciates the compromise for 50 percent, the board’s agreement to the increase did not guarantee a 75 percent increase for the school resource officer for the upcoming budget year.
“If I need to come back and readdress it, I’d be more than happy to,” Young said.