Board wants SROs, debates school safety

Friday, January 18, 2013

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

In an effort to find out what can be done, the county's school board endorsed the sheriff's request for financial support from three municipalities so school resource officers may be posted at five elementary schools.

The board's 8-1 vote Monday appealing for funding from municipalities is another response to the 28 school shooting deaths in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 12, a tragedy that's prompted a national debate and reactions from the White House and Capitol Hills in Washington and Nashville.

"If we're putting feelers out," board member Kristen Gold suggested, "maybe there's a better way to ask for assistance."

An SRO in every school isn't the only answer, Gold noted.

People without certification as a police officer, who are hired to be SROs, must complete a 12-week state training course, Schools Director Jackie Abernathy told the board Monday.

"We need to get the ball rolling," Abernathy said.

Board member Susan Hunter seconded Board member Harvey Jones' motion in favor of letters being sent to Lewisburg, Chapel Hill and Cornersville, requesting financial support for SROs at elementary schools.

Sheriff Norman Dalton attended the board meeting. His request is endorsed by all county commissioners on the Law Enforcement Committee, who want County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett to make an appeal to the municipalities. Dalton estimates the cost for more SROs at up to $400,000 during the first year.

During telephone interviews on Jan. 11, administrators of the municipalities indicated the cost is an obstacle.

School Board member Barbara Kennedy voted against Jones' motion. She suggested the decision be deferred. Delay was deflected with discussion indicating it's better to proceed in hopes of promoting a broader search for solutions to make schools safer.

"I'm afraid this is just a knee-jerk reaction to what happened" at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, said Kennedy, asking, "Do you all know what $400,000 will do?"

She listed several educational programs, spoke of challenges parents face, and commented, "We can't control everything."

Board member Donnie Moses asked about other ways to make schools safe, and Abernathy replied, "We've heard a little bit of everything." While state lawmakers have indicated there may be state and/or federal support, the director reported there's been nothing specific.

"We need some help," board member Ken Lilly said.

Board member Randy Perryman said he "would feel safer if we had some sort of armed guard in schools."

Gold suggested more secure front doors, but noted the Newtown school had extra security measures.

Responding to comments about the cost, Perryman said, "The money situation needs to go to the side. I don't see how we cannot do something. It sounds like a knee-jerk reaction, but we've got the utmost authority (the sheriff) telling us this."

Board Chairman Mike Keny agreed.

"This one is different," Keny said. "There are a lot of people who've got your back on this one," he said, indicating public support for more SROs.