A law goes into effect today calling on local school districts to place a school resource officer (SRO) in each school by Aug. 1 if they can afford the cost. Local school officials said while they’d be happy to add SROs in every building, it’s simply not possible due to a lack of funding from the state.
State Rep. DJ Johnson said that the law was originally crafted to highlight the need for safety and security within schools.
“First off, school security in the environment that we’re in must be a high priority if not the highest priority for our students,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that in the wording of the law, school districts are able to alert the state if they aren’t able to meet the Aug. 1 deadline to get SROs on every campus. The districts must detail why they can’t — whether it’s funding, personnel or other reasons — and then work on a plan to be able to meet that need.
“We will take their feedback to help them get to the point where they can have SROs at all campuses,” Johnson said.
Local school officials aren’t opposed to adding SROs, but are disgruntled that there’s no funding provided to pay for those new positions.
Melissa Decker, Chair of the Owensboro Public Schools Board of Education, previously said she was angry when she heard there was no funding to help meet the requirement.
“There is not a lot of extra money floating around. So on top of that our legislators came up with this brilliant idea to have yet another unfunded mandate,” Decker said during the May school board meeting. “It would be fantastic to be able to have an SRO in each one of our buildings, but I think those legislators need to figure out where we’re going to pull money from.”
According to Johnson, the decision to not provide initial state funding was due to a significant increase in money that was previously supplied to the schools.
Jared Revlett, Public Information Officer for OPS, said their district currently has two SROs, one each at Owensboro Middle School and Owensboro High School. The SROs currently on staff are through a partnership with the Owensboro Police Department. One SRO’s pay fully funed by OPS, while the other’s is split between OPS and OPD.
Revlett said bringing in an SRO per building means they have to increase their staff by nine.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “…Obviously, we’d love to be able to provide one for every building, but the funding is not there and the staffing from OPD is not there.”
The next step for OPS, according to Revlett, is getting in contact with their School Safety Marshal for the region, Lonnie Bell. According to Revlett, Bell periodically does safety checks on the school and reports to legislators to provide feedback for additional funding.
At Daviess County Public Schools, Superintendent Matt Robbins said they are in a similar situation. While the system has a police agency of its own currently staffed with five officers stationed at the middle and high schools, the new law would require DCPS to add 13 new officers to fully cover their 18 schools.
Robbins said it would cost about $1 million the first year to bring on the new team members and supply them with vehicles and other equipment needed; he said it would cost about $650,000 in subsequent years.
“We don’t have any issue with [bringing SROs in the schools], whatsoever. In fact, we are great with it. The obstacle is always money,” Robbins said.
With roughly two-thirds of their funding already coming from state taxes, Robbins said money would have to be appropriated by the state for DCPS to add that many SROs.
The steps for DCPS look identical to OPS, as they will have to make a plan and notify their representative about the inability to fund an SRO in every building.