Is Letcher County Central High School going to have a school resource officer this school year? For now the answer is no.
The Letcher County Board of Education has voted three times in the past month on a contract concerning a school resource officer.
After a lengthy discussion during the July 22 board meeting pertaining to how many school resource officers the board can afford to hire, Board Member Will Smith made a motion to employ two school resource officers — one male and one female. After Board Member Dr. Sam Quillen Jr. seconded the motion, Smith, Quillen and Board Chairman Robert Kiser voted in favor of hiring two officers. Board members Mendy Boggs and Terry Cornett did not cast votes. After Kiser adjourned the meeting, Board Attorney Darrell Hall confirmed that the motion passed 3-0.
The one-year contract, which was approved at the July 22 meeting, consisted of the officers each receiving a salary of $32,975, in addition to the board paying pay $49.76 per month for part of each officer’s health insurance.
The board learned during a special board meeting on August 5 that the district had been reimbursing the Letcher Fiscal Court $374.55 a month since February for health insurance costs for the school resource officers.
Letcher County Sheriff Danny 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.
Letcher Schools Supt. Tony Sergent and Webb decided it would cost the board about $95,000 to provide two school resource officers in the district for one school year. This figure includes salaries as well as health insurance and retirement benefits.
Because the board and sheriff couldn’t agree on a contract by August 7, which was the first day of school, a school resource offi- cer was not on site at LCCHS the first two days of the school year. Letcher County Sheriff ’s Deputy Bert Slone, who has served as an SRO at LCCHS for the past eight years, patrolled the high school on August 9.
Webb signed a contract on August 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 August meeting on Monday, the board reviewed Slone’s contract and two board members objected to paying health insurance and hazardous duty retirement benefits for Slone.
Chairman Kiser told the board that the contract for previous years included a clause that specified “plus any and all fixed costs.”
“It was just buried in language that didn’t bring everything to light as far as the amount goes,” said Kiser.
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.
“So essentially the contract you voted on before and accepted is exactly the same,” said Sergent. “Only now the numbers are actually written out where you can see what you are paying.”
The board pays nearly $50 per certified and classified employee each month for health insurance. A certain percentage of a school employee’s salary goes toward a retirement fund and the board matches that amount.
“So this is more than what we give our teachers,” said Board Member Boggs. “I have a problem with that.
Boggs said she also did not agree with paying $980 a month for hazardous duty retirement.
“I can’t get $15,000 to provide a nurse for Cowan, but the $980 retirement comes up to $11,000 a year, which would almost provide me a nurse at Cowan,” said Boggs.
Juanita Spangler, a teacher at Whitesburg Middle School, is opposed to the board paying more for the school resource officer’s benefits than it does for teachers.
“I’m going to be inappropriate and say something here again,” said Spangler, who had asked how much money hazardous duty retirement cost. “If I break up a fight, you don’t pay $980 for me for hazardous duty.”
Although Kiser told Spangler officers don’t know what situations they will be encountering, he also said he had talked to the sheriff to see if the board could pay a reduced cost for retirement instead of hazardous duty retirement.
“I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t look at an SRO being hazardous duty,” said Kiser. “I’m sure part of it probably would be but at the same time part of it is not.”
Spangler said teachers also conduct home visits pertaining to truancy cases and don’t receive $980 a month for retirement.
“And if I have a fight in my classroom or in my hallway when I am on duty, I can’t call him to come and break it up while I am waiting,” said Spangler.
Smith said a school resource officer is needed at LCCHS for safety reasons.
“We have to have an SRO at the high school,” said Smith. “I don’t agree with all of these additional benefits. I think the county or the sheriff’s office could pick up some of these benefits.”
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. Sergent told the board that it cut expenditures from $145,00 to $50,000 by reducing the number of school resource officers from three to one.
“The reason I recommended to have one for this year — somebody we could trust and somebody would be at our high school,” said Sergent. “If the board wanted to look at a different route at a later date, I would support that if that is what you wanted to do.”
Smith and Kiser voted in favor of approving the updated contract for Slone, but Boggs and Cornett opposed. Because Board Member Dr. Sam Quillen Jr. was not at Monday night’s meeting, the motion to approve the contract did not pass.
“I think it is just too much,” said Cornett. “I feel like the sheriff ’s department should probably help with some of this. We are being faced with tough economic times as well as the sheriff ’s department. I just don’t feel we should pay the entire amount. I feel like we need some help from the sheriff.”
Kiser said he had talked with Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward and Webb to see if they could contribute for the costs associated with providing a school resource officer.
“There was going to be no help,” said Kiser. “It was either we funded it or we didn’t.”
Boggs told Slone that he does a great job with the students.
Slone told the board that he understands that the benefits add up to a lot of money.
“I know times are hard,” said Slone.
As a school resource officer, Slone said he has dealt with cases involving social services, truancy, disgruntled parents, rape and sexual abuse.
“There is a danger aspect to it,” said Slone.
Webb said Slone is an asset to LCCHS.
“He knows more about the operation of the school and the safety of that school than anybody else they could put up there,” said Webb.