The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 2, 2013

Commission OKs more school officers

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— The Limestone County Commission has approved splitting the $240,000 cost of hiring 12 part-time, retired officers with Limestone County Schools to boost school security following the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting.

During Monday’s meeting, the commission voted 3-1 to authorize paying $120,000 to hire officers as contract employees under the supervision of the Sheriff’s Department.

Commissioners Steve Turner, Gary Daly and Bill Latimer each voted for the measure, while Commissioner Ben Harrison voted against.

Harrison said he supported improving school security but he wanted the school system “to take ownership” of the part-time SRO program. Harrison said the school system, which is partially funded by sales tax revenue, is “ahead of the game” with at least $400,000 more in revenue than this time last year. However, Limestone County Schools Superintendent Tom Sisk said the system is actually only $157,000 ahead, and a $120,000 increase to the system’s sewer bill in August will swallow most of that surplus.

The county is primarily funded through gasoline tax and ad valorem tax revenue, or property taxes. Harrison said he believed the ad valorem money should be used for other purposes than school security, and the cost of the part-time SRO program could be better managed if one funding source managed it.

“I’m against taking ad valorem taxes to support the (SRO part-time) program. I think there are better uses for (those) monies,” said Harrison, who stated twice that he was not against the SRO program.

Both the county’s and the school system’s new budget year begins Oct. 1. Each entity will spend slightly more than $378,000 to fund both the full-time SROs and the new pool of part-time officers during the first year of administering both programs.

Benefits of SROs

Sisk said he favored certified school security officers over private security officers because SROs have the appropriate training, liability coverage and search-and-seizure privileges to provide adequate security.

The county and school system currently split the $516,908 annual cost of seven full-time school resource officers assigned to the six county high schools — Ardmore, Clements, East Limestone, Elkmont, Tanner and West Limestone — and the Limestone County Career Technical Center.

The retired officers will likely rotate assignments at the six  standalone elementary schools at Blue Springs, Cedar Hill, Creekside, Johnson, Owens and Piney Chapel, Superintendent Tom Sisk said.

Sisk added the Central Office would fully support assignment decisions made by the Sheriff’s Department. Elkmont, Tanner and West are K-12 schools, and each have a full-time officer assigned to its campuses.

Retired officers with a pension from the Retirement Systems of Alabama cannot be paid more the $23,000 per year under state regulations.

Planning for fall

Approving the measure in early April likely will allow the Sheriff’s Department and school system to have the new officers in place when the 2013-14 school year begins in August, Sisk said.

The Sheriff’s Department requires all SROs to have up-to-date certification from the Alabama Police Officers Standards and Training and the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Chief Deputy Randy King said some retired officers would need APOST recertification, and that all of the new officers would be required to complete 40 hours of SRO training.