Bedford County Board of Commissioners will consider hiring seven new school resource officers (SROs), at a total cost of $257,572, according to discussion at Tuesday night's meeting of the county's Financial Management Committee.
SROs are law enforcement officers who are assigned to schools but employed by the sheriff's department. They provide security but may also participate in teaching safety classes, interacting with students, and so on.
Capt. Tony Barrett of Bedford County Sheriff's Department said school and sheriff's department officials had been talking about the need for additional SROs since last Wednesday, prior to the Connecticut school shooting. Last Wednesday, the boyfriend of a Thomas Magnet School student's mother threatened violence when he was not allowed to check the student out from school. He has been charged with filing a false report and with violation of parole.
The local incident, combined with the Connecticut shootings, has initiated a discussion of how best to improve school security.
"We don't need to be arming teachers," Barrett said. "I don't teach my wife's class, and I don't expect her to do my job."
There are six schools without full-time SROs, primarily elementary schools. Barrett said that hiring seven additional SROs would put them at every school. Each officer would cost $36,976.
"Everything turns into money," said Barrett.
The sheriff's department is about to decommission 10 cars from patrol use, but they would still be suited for use by SROs, according to Barrett and Sheriff Randall Boyce.
"What kind of price can we put on a child's life -- or an adult's life?" asked Bedford County Board of Education chairman Amy Martin.
Mike Bone, who is serving along with Ed Gray as interim school superintendent, told the committee that parents will want immediate action as a result of the Thomas Magnet School and Connecticut incidents.
Commissioner Joe Tillett asked how quickly SROs could be hired. Barrett said it would take some time to hire and train all seven.
There are a few existing sheriff's officers who might be interested in, and suited for, SRO positions, but probably not seven of them, said Barrett.
Martin, who works at Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville, was asked about security at TTCS. She said the school is increasingly concerned about security and is instituting a new policy requiring school visitors to check in at the office, just as they do at local public elementary and secondary schools. But the layout of the TTCS facility, and the fact that some of its programs require open shops, makes security an issue.
Commissioner Joe Tillett recommended that the proposal be sent to the full commission, which will meet Jan. 8.