By Stan Welch
While Monday’s meeting on school safety, hosted by District 8 Rep. Don Bowen, (see related story elsewhere in this issue) focused on the various means of providing additional security in the county’s schools, finding funding for whatever method or methods are chosen remains a real consideration.
The method most widely favored by the forty or so people who attended Monday’s meeting at the offices of the County Legislative Delegation was trained, professional, armed security personnel. That would be most likely to take the form of additional school resource officers, or SROs.
The cost per officer would be at least $50,000 per year, according to estimates. There are currently twenty three schools in Anderson County not staffed with SROs, which would have a minimum cost of $1.15 million per year. That comes to between two and three additional mills of tax each year.
That is basically the proposal made by the Anderson County Board of Education.
Rep. Bowen plans to seek funding from the General Assembly as a first resort. He told The Journal in a telephone interview, however, that he is also prepared to propose that the County Board of Education be dissolved and its approximate $700,000 budget be applied to the cost of the SROs, if it is necessary.
Bowen has long advocated the dissolution of the board, arguing that it does little but, in his words, “rubber stamp the budgets of the five districts.” Bowen is quick to point out that only three counties in the state have a county board of education.
District Seven Rep. Mike Gambrell, who is currently chairman of the legislative delegation, is less than enthusiastic about Bowen’s willingness to consider such a move. Gambrell says that the county board of education does a good bit more than just review district budgets.
“The Board provides a number of services, such as handling all attendance and truancy matters for every school in the county,” said Gambrell.
According to a summary of services provided to The Journal by Gambrell and the County Board of Education, that includes any court actions needed in cases that progress that far. The County Board and its staff handle as many as 1800 cases each year, though the majority of those do not require legal remedies.
The County Board of Education and its staff also provides complete food service management to the schools of Districts Two and Three and provides oversight, review and reporting services to District Four, which contracts its food service out to a vendor.
The County Board also provides fully staffed mental health counseling to the students of Districts One through Four. District Five will be added to that group later this year. Between 1200 and 1600 students currently receive counseling services. That number will obviously increase when District Five comes on board.
The Anderson County Alternative School also receives a variety of administrative services from the County Board offices, including payroll, accounts payable, and other fiscal services.
Rep. Gambrell pointed out that seventy five to eighty per cent of the County Board’s operating budget can be linked directly to services and support of the various schools. “The money is used to provide services. People think that the county board and its staff just sit around and do nothing, but that is clearly not the case.”
Gambrell is optimistic that the General Assembly, which clearly must improve security in the state’s schools, will render the question moot. “SLED director Mark Keel has indicated that he considers anything less than a trained officer in each school to be inadequate. I am hoping that we can find the resources we need to address this important issue without impacting other aspects of the local education system.”