As the Bulloch County Schools conduct a series of forums on school safety, one of the suggestions heard most often is that police officers, called school resource officers or SROs, should be assigned to every campus.
Currently, just four resource officers serve at six of the county system’s 15 schools. Southeast Bulloch Middle School and Southeast Bulloch High School share one officer, as do Langston Chapel Middle School and Langston Chapel Elementary. Those two officers and one at William James Middle School are Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office deputies. A Statesboro Police Department officer is assigned to Statesboro High School.
“To work with law enforcement agencies to put an SRO in every one of our schools would be a big commitment,” Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said during Monday night’s forum at Statesboro High.
“I’m not saying it’s not an important commitment or a necessary commitment, but it’s a value-driven commitment,” he said. “It’s a big enough total that it’s going to require very intentional discussion.”
He wasn’t making a proposal, but responding to people who stood up and spoke or wrote comments on cards. Giving an off-the-cuff estimate, Wilson said that providing an officer for every school could cost the equivalent of a half mill.
A mill of property tax nets the Bulloch County Board of Education about $1.8 million, so Wilson’s very rough estimate was that keeping a law enforcement officer in every school each school day could cost $900,000 a year. A mill is one-thousandth, and with most property here assessed at 40 percent of market value, one mill draws $40 tax from a home or business worth $100,000.
About 30 people, including a number of parents, but also at least one student, two reporters and a row of school administrators, attended the forum in the SHS cafeteria. Attendance was similar for another forum at Statesboro High one week earlier. The best attendance yet was for the March 13 forum at Southeast Bulloch High School, when almost 100 people turned out. Another forum is planned for 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Wednesday at Portal Elementary School.
A mother’s request
“I would like to know what I can do to help get more school resource officers in our community, at our schools,” Natalie Cowart, mother of a third-grader attending one of the Statesboro-zoned elementary schools, had said to Wilson.
“My daughter the other day was very excited to see an officer at school,” Cowart said. “He walked around, he gave the kids high-fives at lunch, which was the highlight of her day, but she also said it made her feel safe, and my 8-year-old shouldn’t have to worry about being safe while she’s at school.”
Cowart also said she would have liked to see some law enforcement officers at Monday’s forum, which none attended.
But Wilson said the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and Statesboro Police Department are working closely with the school system.
Since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the Statesboro Police Department has increased patrol visits to schools without resource officers. The Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office already worked with the school system to train teachers and other school system employees in the “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol. Now, a higher level of the “fight” part of the training will be provided to school employees who volunteer to take action against a potential intruder, Wilson said.
These things are being done outside of the contracts between the school system and law enforcement agencies for resource officers.
Cost to system
The school system pays the wages of resource officers for the days they spend at their assigned schools. Last school year, when there were two school resource officers from the Sheriff’s Office, the school system spent about $53,000 for their work, and about half that much for the one resource officer provided by the Statesboro Police Department, said Paul Webb, Bulloch County Schools chief operations officer.
So, the current cost to the school system is roughly $27,000 for each officer, and after a third Sheriff’s Office deputy was assigned this year, $110,000 is a fair estimate of the total for the four officers, Webb agreed in an email reply Tuesday.
The school system provides the officers work space, copies of the student handbook, the employee handbook and any other policy manual given to any other school employee, Webb said.
But the law enforcement agencies still provide the officers’ training, vehicles and other equipment, Webb wrote. The agencies also pay the officers when school is out and they do other police work in the community. This school year, Webb said, the school system is paying the officers for the 176 class days.
“The thing is, though, we’re sharing in the cost with the Sheriff’s Department and SPD,” Wilson had said after the forum. “I’m speaking for our side of it. I can’t speak for their side.”
Adding more resource officers was one of a variety of suggestions Monday.
Danny Key, father of two young children now in school and husband of a teacher, offered Wilson any support he can give for measures to make the schools more secure. Key, an accountant, said he knows his expertise is not in security but he would consult experts and thinks the schools should do the same.
“Educators are not going to be able to handle the problem of security as well as someone who’s trained in that area will be able to advise them, and I really think we need to make provision somehow to get our educators help in dealing with this issue,” he recapped after the forum.
Kannette King, 17, a Statesboro High School junior, like an idea for student nametags she said she heard at school.
“I know at some schools the students have nametags with their student ID’s, and they’re color-coded by strings by their grades, and I think that students should have those so we can identify each other or the teachers can identify us as students and not somebody that’s from the outside,” King said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.