Acting upon the recommendation of superintendent John Parrish, the Booneville School Board last week approved the creation of a position of school resource officer.
Parrish made the recommendation after a presentation from Booneville Police Chief Al Brown.
Brown presented the school with a job description and two contract options for the officer. For one the officer would be on the school campus year round, and one in which the officer would be on campus throughout the school year and use accumulated compensation leave and vacation time during the summer.
"The officer would be in charge of any incidents that take place, he would be helpful to administration, to faculty, to staff, to kids and their parents throughout the whole school year," said Brown. "As well as teaching law enforcement classes or the DARE program or whatever may arise that the school would like to see happen."
Because the board approved creating the position, Brown said he would be sending the officer who will become the SRO to the Criminal Justice Institute in June for training so that he would be certified to hold the position when the 2014-2015 school year begins in August.
Brown said the Institute has a safe school initiative for which there are eight courses an officer could take including the understanding juvenile law, how to respond to an attacker, and planning, conducting and analyzing emergency crisis plans from table top to full drill.
The latter, which Parrish recommended, would allow the city to utilize the officer’s services for about five weeks during the summer, for which the city would allocate about $5,000 of the $49,000 contract, a total which covers all benefits and employee matching contributions.
Converting the contract to the full year would not be an issue, should the school decide to do so, Brown said. Nor will the relationship, he stressed.
"If we can make it happen and do it at this cost, I’m okay with it, even if it goes over into what would be considered the city’s time," the chief said. "I don’t want to nit-pick it."
Brown also said the city will continue to have law enforcement available even if an SRO is assigned to the school.
Brown said the city will have start-up costs to launch the program. Those include training an officer to replace the SRO on the BPD staff which would necessitate a $15,000 training cost and the purchase of a used, equipped police vehicle which, Brown said, usually cost between $14,000 and $16,000.
The training period for a new officer will begin in April to allow the new officer to be certified and "street ready" once the SRO leaves for the school, Brown added.
Tuesday marked the second time Brown has made such a presentation to the board.
"I know we tried this in the past and there was a little bit of a funding issue with the city," said Brown.
"We don’t have that many problems here at the school," Booneville Mayor Jerry Wilkins told the board. "Teachers, faculty, administration does a wonderful job, but the visibility of a police officer walking up and down the halls actually makes everybody feel a little bit safer."
Brown said he has had two officers, Levi Lewter and Norman Wilder, express an interest in the position and he would welcome the district’s input in selecting the SRO.
Lewter has been with the BPD about 18 months, Brown said, and Wilder is the unit’s K9 officer who has almost 20 years of experience in law enforcement.
Funding for the position is through money the school receives through the free and reduced lunch program, Parrish said.
"One of the goals our board has had is to have a school resource officer," said Parrish. "I can’t under-emphasize this, our administrators and teachers have done a lot and our teachers have done a lot to increase our free and reduced lunch numbers."
Due to the school district reaching the 70 percent plateau for students enrolled on the free and reduced price lunch programs, it received about $160,000 in additional money this year, Parrish said. The district is scheduled to receive about $320,000 more during the next school year and about $480,000 more the following year, if the program numbers continue to include 70 percent of the school’s population.
"We’re able to come to the point where we can discuss having an SRO because of those numbers," said Parrish.
Some of the funding has already been allocated to a technology upgrade and a pending project to go 1-to-1 – a program to have textbooks on digital devices such as iPads.
"We’re going to have a lot of NSLA dollars," said Parrish. "We need to find worthwhile ways to spend that. Safety for our students and faculty is the most important thing."