After more than a month of indecision about the hiring a school resource officer, the Letcher County Board of Education has voted unanimously to employ a fulltime officer at Letcher County Central High School for the remainder of the school year.
Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb told the school board during a special meeting on Sept. 11 that he had applied several years ago for federal grants for three years in a row, but was never awarded funding to provide school resource officers for Letcher or Jenkins schools. Webb said former Supt. Anna Craft asked Webb to provide a school resource officer after he had been turned down for federal funding for the third time.
“I told her right up front that I didn’t have any money,” said Webb. “I said if you can pay the benefits and the salary, then I will furnish the car, the gas, the uniforms, the training. That’s what I could do.”
The sheriff ’s department and the school board signed a contract and Bert Slone was hired eight years ago as a school resource officer.
The original contract said the board would pay the officer’s salary “plus any and all fixed costs.”
“ Where the problem came in was about four years ago,” said Webb. “Hazardous duty retirement not only went up, it went up considerably.”
Webb told the board that the Letcher Fiscal Court had been paying the insurance and hazardous duty retirement, but that the school district had been reimbursing the sheriff ’s department instead of the fiscal court until February.
The board learned during a special board meeting on August 5 that the district had been reimbursing the fiscal court $374.55 a month since February for health insurance costs for the school resource officers. After approving hiring two school resource officers — one male and one female — at the July 22 meeting, the board decided Aug. 5 that it couldn’t afford to foot the bill for the health insurance.
Salaries, health insurance and retirement benefits were estimated to cost the board about $95,000 to provide two school resource officers in the district for one school year.
Because the board and sheriff couldn’t agree on a contract by Aug. 7, which was the first day of school, a school resource officer was not on-site at LCCHS the first two days of the school year. Slone, who has served as a school resource office at LCCHS for the past eight years, patrolled the high school on Aug. 9.
Webb signed a contract on Aug. 12 in which the board was to pay all fees associated with the resource officer. Slone has been stationed at the high school since the contract was signed.
At the board’s Aug. 26 meeting, the board reviewed Slone’s contract. Board members Mendy Boggs and Terry Cornett objected to paying health insurance and hazardous duty retirement benefits for Slone.
If the contract was approved, in addition to Slone’s salary of $32,775, the board would pay $980.91 a month for hazardous duty retirement and $374.55 a month for partial payment for health insurance.
Saying that was more money than teachers received for benefits, Boggs disagreed with paying $980 a month for hazardous duty retirement.
Cornett said the dollar amount was too much and said the sheriff ’s department should help with the cost to provide the school resource officer. Slone had not been at LCCHS since Aug. 26.
Authorities investigated a bomb threat scare on Sept. 9 that ended up being a conversation between two students about acquiring fireworks, which was overhead by another student. Slone responded to the threat and helped with the investigation at the old Whitesburg High School campus where all LCCHS students were taken while police searched the LCCHS facility.
During the special meeting on Sept. 11, Kiser said he had asked some high school students what they thought about having a school resource officer at the high school.
“I spoke with quite a few of the kids at the high school and about every kid I spoke to up there likes the idea of having the resource officer in the building,” said Kiser. “That plays a big role with me in this decision.”
Boggs said someone told her that Kiser only surveyed straight A students so she asked opinions of additional students.
“I talked to a few kids that I know are real troublemakers,” said Boggs. “Their opinion of Bert was still just as high as a straight A students.”
Boggs said when she voted against the contract, wasn’t about Slone’s integrity. “Bert does an excellent, excellent job,” she said. “It was never about was Bert worth the money or not. In my opinion, he’s well worth the money it’s just the fact that times are so tight.”
Smith said student safety is a major responsibility of the board.
“It scares me to death the thoughts of not having a resource officer at our high school,” said Smith. “I certainly support it.”
Letcher County Schools Supt. Tony Sergent said he called Slone on four occasions to speak to students about bullying when he was a principal at Fleming-Neon Elementary School.
“He was there so I called him and got him to come help me,” said Sergent. “He did a real good presentation with bullying. When a police officer comes in and talks to young boys or girls, they take it seriously.”
Webb said in previous years he was told that the school resource officers helped with raising the district’s attendance rate and the board was able to employ three officers last school year.
Webb said Slone has worked late to solve cases before students showed up at school the next day.
“He has tracked it down and resolved the situation that night where kids didn’t have to go off the hill,” said Webb.
With Webb’s 42 years experience in law enforcement, he said Slone is whom he would choose to be stationed at the high school.
“That’s how much confidence I’ve got,” said Webb. “A lot of those kids don’t have male role models at home and Bert does that for them.”
The board will pay Slone’s salary, plus costs for health insurance and hazardous duty retirement.