BOE, City negotiating contract to provide a school resource officer by May 1
Monday night, the school board voted unanimously to enter into negotiations with the City of Claxton to provide a school resource officer for Evans County Schools. The BOE and Claxton PD would like to have a police officer in the position by May 1 in order to prepare for next school term.
While the board has discussed instituting a school resource officer in the past, recent violent events at schools across the nation have made it a more urgent priority. “We unfortunately are living through some times that are very difficult,” said Dr. Marty Waters, school superintendent. “The incident in Florida is certainly not an isolated incident. We are seeing most recently, not only idle threats, but there have been districts that neighbor us that have had issues where weapons have been discovered on campus as part of a threat.”
While there have been reports of threats made at Evans County Schools in recent weeks, authorities have not determined any of them to be founded and no student arrests have been made. One Claxton High student was expelled.
The school district and City of Claxton are just beginning to discuss contract terms for a school resource officer, but initial projections are that the BOE would contract with the City for $50,000 annually to provide the officer. When school is not in session, the officer would return to city patrol.
The officer will remain an employee of Claxton Police Department, but will be provided office space at all three Evans County schools. His schedule will not be disclosed for safety reasons. “We think that defeats the purpose of safety,” Waters explained.
Chief Dale Kirkland informed the Enterprise last week that Officer Ron Smith has requested to be moved from his current position to that of school resource officer. Kirkland, Smith and Mayor Terry Branch attended the BOE meeting Monday night.
“I’ve talked to several people in the community and gotten the general consensus from everybody that they want it to happen now … We’re ready when you are. If you’re waiting on us, you’re backing up,” Kirkland told board members.
“This is a concern that all of us share together,” Branch added. City officials met with BOE members in a workshop last week to discuss the matter. Board member Job Gutierrez made the motion to enter into negotiations with Claxton Monday night. Ed Mosley seconded the motion.
Waters reported that funding for the position would be allocated through local dollars. There are no grants currently available for a school resource officer, but there may be some in the future. “With this being a national topic, we feel like in the near future there will possibly be some federal grants, possibly some state grants as well,” Waters said.
Kirkland is also researching grant options, potentially to provide for the officer’s equipment.
Pratt Lockwood, a citizen in attendance at the meeting, inquired as to why an officer could not be assigned to each school.
“I would love to see an officer in every school. As of right now, we’re not financially able to do that, but one we can do,” Kirkland replied. It will cost $75,000 – $100,000 to provide one officer with a vehicle, equipment, gas, salary and benefits, Kirkland says.
With the assistance of a police chief, investigator and the officer on day shift, Kirkland is confident that the school resource officer can maintain a secure environment at each school. “We can make sure that our schools are as safe as possible,” he said.
A primary objective for the resource officer will be establishing relationships with the students. Those relationships can help deter violent events on campus. “We feel very strongly that an officer in the schools is not there to prevent. We cannot prevent things from happening, but we can deter,” Waters said.
Waters will host a roundtable principals meeting with Sheriff Randall Tippins and Kirkland this week to discuss school safety.
“We’re in a situation anymore where there really is no precedent,” Waters said, referencing the Parkland, Fla. shooting in which the shooter pulled a fire alarm and shot students as they were vacating their classrooms – a procedure required by law. “Some of those very same laws are possibly in contradiction to what we needed to be doing,” he continued.
The district’s current safety plan was vetted last year by Officer Gordon Lowe, former GEMA officer.
By Sarah Gove, Enterprise Editor – email@example.com