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Sheriff committed to add 1 school officer a year
Willing to do more, but funding it requires BOE and BOC decisions
Brown, Couch, Wilson composite
Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown, Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch and Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson

Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown made a commitment to voters to add one school resource officer, or SRO, each year. With the Board of Education seeking to put an officer in every school much sooner, Brown said he will do what he can to help.

But adding one deputy at each of seven schools outside the Statesboro city limits next school year would require upwards of $500,000 annual costs to taxpayers through the BOE, the county Board of Commissioners or both. While the Board of Education is now pushing to add resource officers in those schools plus four additional schools inside Statesboro, both county boards have completed work on their fiscal year 2019 budgets without a commitment of dollars for more officers.

Interviewed last week, Brown spoke of a need to hear what the school board wants to do and for that board and the county commissioners to “get together” on how to fund it.

“I made a promise in my campaign to add one a year,” he said. “I will continue to do that because as the sheriff I can do that, but I would much rather them make a decision on trying to let’s go forward and go ahead and make one swift move. Granted, you know, dollars are always a question and I’m not the dollar man.”

He confirmed that he had talked to Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson about adding seven SROs.

 

Budget proposal

In fact, Brown included a proposal to do this in his supplemental budget request to the county commissioners, with a $670,628 cost projection and a note that the BOE contributes “approximately $20,000 per deputy.” That would have left the county with a first-year total cost of around $500,000.

His proposal didn’t make it into the county’s final budget, and Brown last week acknowledged a desire from county officials for the school system to pay a larger share.

“They’re definitely going to have to meet us more than halfway on some of this stuff,” he said. “You’re talking about equipment, vehicles and everything else involved in that, to equip an officer, and their training.”

During the Board of Education’s May 31 work session, Wilson said the school system and Sheriff’s Office have a very beneficial relationship, sharing the expense of deputies as SROs. He also cited a cost to the school system of “a little over $20,000” each.

Paul Webb, the school system’s chief operations officer, said in March that the cost to Bulloch County Schools was roughly $27,000 per deputy the previous school year.

For the school year that just ended, Whitney Richland, the county government’s chief financial officer, figured costs billed to the school system at roughly $29,000 to $30,000 per deputy, County Manager Tom Couch stated in an email Monday. The school system pays the deputies’ wages and benefits costs for the 180 days students are in school.

 

Other costs

“The problem is that this does not cover the full operating and capital costs of these officers for the 180-day period,” Couch wrote. “The direct operating costs would include such things as uniform and protective gear, training, transportation, supplies and small equipment. Capital costs would include such items as vehicles and communications equipment. There are also no overhead costs calculated.”

If the schools are providing things such as computers and office space, that could reduce these costs, he said.

Three years ago when the city of Brooklet sought an estimate for having the Sheriff’s Office provide police service, Couch calculated a cost of $91,380 per officer, based on then-average annual wages of $40,344 for road patrol deputies. That didn’t include the cost of an equipped vehicle, which could now be amortized to about $5,000 a year, Couch added.

He noted that the same deputies do other law enforcement work for the county when school is not in session.

“Ultimately, if you take 180 days, which is roughly half a year — and, we are only getting about $29,000 per deputy now — the aforesaid math will tell you we are not getting full cost recovery,” Couch wrote. “We should probably be getting about $50,000 annually, like Statesboro is.”

At the May 31 meeting, Wilson said that adding Statesboro police officers as SROs could cost the school system $50,000 or more each.

The Statesboro Police Department has long provided one resource officer, at Statesboro High School. The four public elementary schools in the city limits have no assigned resource officers, and Wilson said he and SPD Chief Mike Broadhead had talked about adding security guards, instead of police officers, as a possibility for some schools.

Meanwhile, the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office last year provided a deputy shared by Southeast Bulloch High and Southeast Bulloch Middle School, another deputy who served at both Langston Chapel Middle and Langston Chapel Elementary, and one deputy assigned to William James Middle School.

So, six out of the 15 Bulloch County Schools campuses had an officer or shared officer.

 

BOE’s goal

Citing the national plague of school shootings, the Board of Education voted 8-0 May 31 to obtain cost estimates by its next meeting for placing an SRO at every school. But the board also voted that night to approve a 2018–19 schools budget that does not fund these.

Likewise, a public hearing on the county commissioners’ budget was held Tuesday evening, and the vote to adopt it is slated for June 19.

“The dilemma for the county is we are so close to passing our budget … we would totally have to reconstruct it to accommodate the sheriff’s request for SROs,” Couch said.

To fund the additional deputies now, the commissioners would have to eliminate adjustments to their pay plan for current employees, as well as other recommended new positions and expenditures, he said. This would be while maintaining a budget without a tax increase.

Couch said he is not at all opposed to adding school resource officers.

“We should not be slow to react — but, instead be deliberate enough to partner and conduct a risk-based or evidence-based assessment on what is needed to secure the schools,” he wrote. “Then, if more SROs should be in play, address the funding and give the taxpayers a plan they have an appetite for financially if additional taxation is necessary — wherever the source of additional taxation comes from.”

 

Meets Thursday

The school board meets again at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, with Wilson apparently expected to deliver cost estimates. In an email reply Tuesday, he acknowledged that much remains up in the air.

“But I am trying to nail down some idea of what it will cost for us to put a SRO at each school,” Wilson wrote. “I hope to have more by Thursday night but will work with whatever I have and continue to give updates.”

He, Brown, Couch and commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson had talked further on this issue.

“I realize this is putting a lot on our community partners and appreciate everyone's efforts,” Wilson wrote. “Sheriff Brown has been very forthright about his goals, as he stated, but has also been cooperative in trying to help us achieve ours, which is much more aggressive.

“I also understand the county's situation and the constraints they are facing,” Wilson continued. “I just appreciate all of them trying to work through this and work with us. Chief Broadhead at the SPD has also been working with us to the extent he can but is also facing some constraints.”

 

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.