While students headed back to school in the Letcher County district this morning, the district’s school resource officers did not.
Until a contract between the Letcher County Board of Education and the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department is agreed upon, a school resource officer (SRO) will not be stationed at Letcher County Central High School this school year.
“There won’t be one assigned fulltime at the school, but we will answer calls until we can work something out with the contract,” said Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb.
At its July 22 meeting, the school board approved hiring two school resource officers — one male and one female – at a salary of $32,975 each, plus $49.76 a month for part of each officer’s health insurance.
The board learned during a special board meeting on August 5 that the district has been reimbursing the Letcher Fiscal Court $374.55 a month since February for health insurance costs for the school resource officers.
Webb did not sign the contract approved at the July meeting because he said neither the sheriff ’s department nor the fiscal court could afford to pay the health insurance costs.
The board decided August 5 that it couldn’t afford to foot the bill for the health insurance either and approved the original contract.
“I can’t sign the agreement,” said Webb. “I have no way of paying them. Everyone has tight budgets.”
Board Member Will Smith said Monday night that safety often is taken for granted.
“We forget so quickly,” said Smith. “We have a school shooting and everyone goes wild. In a short amount of time we forget about the safety until another shooting happens. That is what is happening here.”
Letcher Schools Supt. Tony Sergent and Webb met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the contract. It would cost the board a total of $94,819.68 to provide two school resource officers in the district for one school year. Each salary would be $32,975 plus $11,800 for retirement for each officer. One officer chose not to get heath insurance through the county’s plan, but the other officer opted for the health insurance plan, which is $439.14 a month. The total cost of one officer would be $50,044.68 and the other officer would cost $44,775.
“I would have liked to have had one at the high school,” said Sergent. “I’d love to have one at every school. We have to reduce expenditures.”
Sergent said he is trying to trim the budget by $1.3 million over the next couple of years. He said the board could consider hiring one school resource officer as an alternative.
“The board will have to determine how many they want,” Sergent said.
If two officers were funded, one would be at the high school and the other would focus on truancy issues by conducting home visits and working with the district director of pupil personnel. Sergent said having one less officer would not decrease security at the high school because most of the time only one officer is on campus.
“Having two is not providing more protection,” said Sergent. “A lot of districts don’t have SROs.”
Letcher County Sheriff ’s Deputy LaShawna Frazier told the board Monday night that if the board only hires one officer the attendance rate would drop.
“That’s what the second person did was to help serve those truancy papers,” said Frazier.”
She said the sheriff’s department doesn’t have the manpower to handle all truancy cases.
The school district funded three school resource officers — Slone, Valerie Breeding and Wade Adams — during the 2012-2013 school year. The board had intended on rehiring Slone and Breeding for this school year.
Slone has served as a school resource officer in the district for eight years at the inception of the program.
Roger Martin, district director of federal and state programs, recommended during the July board meeting that the board fund only one resource officer position.
For now police will be dispatched to schools when needed.
“If something happens, a sheriff ’s road deputy would respond,” said Webb.
During the meeting on August 5 the board approved paying $7,751 to Superior Printing and Publishing Company for printing 4,300 Code of Conduct Books for the 2013–2014 school year.
Sergent said he wants the district to be transparent with its finances so the public can see where money is spent.