BEDFORD — Bedford County supervisors are discussing the potential addition of 14 school resource officer positions at Bedford County Public Schools through a state-level grant.
Bedford County Public Schools currently has all SRO positions established, a total of seven from three high schools and three colleges, Bedford County Sheriff Mike Miller said at a Monday board of supervisors business meeting. .
However, with a recent $45 million SRO grant available from the state, the county could support 14 new SRO positions within the school division. This would increase the security presence at more public schools in the county.
SROs are different from School Security Officers in that School Resource Officers are hired by a local law enforcement agency to provide security services in a school, in addition to building relationships and mentoring in class. These officers would also be responsible for directing and enforcing traffic in school zones.
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A School Safety Officer is employed by the local school board for a wider range of responsibilities including maintaining discipline and order, preventing crime, keeping everyone in their assigned school safe , the investigation of violations of school board policies and the detention of students who break the law. or school policies.
Schools wouldn’t need both an SRO and an SSO, according to Miller and county staff — either is sufficient.
When the sheriff’s office applied for the SRO grant, the county didn’t expect to receive a grant for the 14 SRO positions — nor did it expect approval to come so quickly, according to Miller and Robert Hiss, Bedford County Administrator. This led to considerations of future and ongoing financial impacts that would be incurred once the grant was exhausted.
According to the parameters of the grant, no local correspondence is required for the 2023 fiscal year. For the 2024-2026 fiscal years, local correspondence of up to $326,480, or 31%, would be required, according to Ashley Anderson, Chief Financial Officer of Bedford County. . By fiscal year 2027, the grant money would be exhausted and the county would have to bear the full cost of these positions, estimated at $892,262. These projections are based on Bedford County base salaries.
Grant money would fund SRO salaries and benefits, not associated costs such as outfitting each officer with the required gear, or supplying and equipping law enforcement vehicles. as required. These expenditures would therefore have a cost to the local budgets of Bedford County.
To manage the costs if the additional SRO positions are filled, the Bedford County Board of Supervisors, county staff and the sheriff’s office have proposed splitting the costs between the school board and the county.
The Board of Supervisors and County staff have all agreed that the School Board should “have their skin in the game” and agree to bear a fair share of the costs associated with filling these SRO positions, particularly because the positions will be directly related to public schools. . A financial commitment from the school board should be made before accepting and using this large grant, according to the unanimous opinion of county officials.
No member of the school board or other BCPS staff was present during Monday’s business meeting. When some supervisors inquired about the lack of school representation, Hiss said he took the news of the grant to the division superintendent, but was seeking guidance and input from the supervisory board before the start. joint meetings and strategy development with the school board and school staff. A joint meeting and further dialogues are expected to take place in the coming months.
District 4 Supervisor and Board Chair John Sharp said the school board needs to be clear about what the county expects of them if the money awarded for the 14 SRO positions is accepted and used.
The council agreed that school safety was an important priority, particularly after a tragedy at a school in Uvalde in May when 19 children and two adults were shot and killed. No one objected to encouraging such measures, but they agreed that the school board should also be prepared to take responsibility. Before deciding whether or not to accept all or part of the grant money, Hiss and the board of supervisors said they would prefer to have an answer from the school board as to whether the school would commit financially.
The Board of Supervisors reached a consensus on Monday to proceed with a proposal made by Sharp and Hiss: 75% of the grant match for ORS salaries and benefits is to be paid by schools, and 25% of the grant match by the wage and benefit subsidy must be paid. by the county. Ultimately, schools would pay for these officers during school months, with the county picking up the cost during summer vacation. Additionally, the county would pay for outfitting officers with required gear and outfitting police cars with lights, sirens, speed cameras and other necessary equipment. These costs would come from the county’s general fund and the sheriff’s office budget.
“I think that seems like a fair approach,” Sharp said.
Miller said the sheriff’s office will review and modify its budget to help meet those looming needs.
“There are investments from the county side. The sheriff’s office can also tighten their belts to help,” Miller said.
Vehicles would be provided to SROs, primarily for work-related law enforcement duties. To do this, Miller offered to ride the bikes on the older or high-mileage used vehicles in the current law enforcement fleet. Because ORS would put less mileage on a vehicle, this recycling could be a cost-cutting measure. Over the next few years, however, at least several new vehicles will need to be purchased for the sheriff’s office.
“We get complaints about speeding in school zones all the time,” Miller said. “We have 21 schools right now. We don’t have enough officers to go to work in every school zone every day. These school resource officers with a car, equipped with radar, can go out there and work those and slow down traffic in front.