The real cost of school safety

Districts get creative when it comes to finding ways to fund school resource officers
Published: Nov. 29, 2019 at 6:03 PM CST
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SOUTHEAST MISSOURI (KFVS) - School security comes at a price.

State leaders in Missouri want districts to make school resource officers a priority.

However, the state isn’t paying for those officers, so some districts are getting creative in order to put safety first.

The New Madrid County R-1 School District has about 1,400 students.

The district is spread out over about 500 square miles.

“We are a big district, and the proximity is really an issue when you are talking about law enforcement and securing a school,” said Dr. Sam Duncan, superintendent at New Madrid County R-1.

Years ago, before Sam Duncan was even an administrator in the district, the school board made the decision to focus on the importance of school resource officers and safety.

“It was a matter of picking up on that and then us just doubling down,” Duncan said.

They put a school resource officer, or SRO, in every building in the district.

“Every single building has one if not more than one,” Anthony Roberts said.

Roberts is the SRO supervisor, he is one of eight officers in the district.

“They are armed, and fully commissioned,” Roberts said. “They have the same power as any other officer, do the same job as any other officer, but do it in a school setting.”

Missouri Governor Mike Parson said the state is committed to putting safety first.

“But, it’s important for me as governor to stay within my lanes,” Governor Parson said.

In July, a School Safety Task Force for the state of Missouri released its report.

It included a focus on school resource officers. The report said districts that most effectively employ SROs have them in every building and incorporate them into training development, risk assessment and threat assessment. Successful districts also understand that SROs have an influence far beyond their law enforcement capabilities.

Read the full report from the task force by clicking here.

For now, schools are on their own when it comes to funding those officers.

“I’m going to put that back to the schools,” Governor Parson said. “We’re going to say these are the practices that are out there, but it’s up to the school. It’s a local issue.”

At the Cape Girardeau School District, SROs on campus spend their day greeting students and developing relationships with them.

“We want our SROs visible,” said Josh Crowell, assistant superintendent at the Cape Girardeau School District. “Not in a sense to be a deterrent, that is a by-product of that, but also to get them in front of our kids.”

Cape Girardeau has more than 4,000 students.

The district has 11 buildings and five School Resource Officers.

“In a perfect world we’d have a resource officer in every school,” said Dr. Neil Glass, superintendent of Cape Girardeau Public Schools.

The Cape Girardeau School District shares its officers with the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

The officers work for the district during the school year, then they are back on the streets during the summer.

The school district pays most of their salaries and the police department picks up the rest.

“It’s difficult for school districts to find money because when we find money we’re cutting from other areas, instructional areas, support areas,” Dr. Glass said. “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

However, what eases administrators concerns is knowing other Cape Girardeau officers are close by if needed.

“When you have access to a whole police force, readily available within a couple of minutes, that plays into the decision you make,” Dr. Glass said.

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Josh Crowell said Cape Girardeau also has regular patrol units that stop by schools in the district.

“They’ll stop in, use the teacher’s lounge, or they’ll stop by may be to stretch their legs,” Crowell said. “They’ll walk the buildings, so not only do we have SROs, but we have the regular police force that utilizes our buildings as well.”

In New Madrid County, it’s a different story with the school district being mostly rural.

In fact, the three elementary schools are spread out in three different towns so police response time wouldn’t be as quick.

The district has also had its share of financial hardships.

In 2016, the district lost one-sixth of its operating revenue, which amounted to about $3.1 million in anticipated revenue.

That happened when a large business in the area closed, which led to lower enrollment.

“We have not regained those monies,” Dr. Sam Duncan said. “It just hasn’t come back and we don’t know if it ever will.”

So, to keep SROs on the books and continue to add more, they had to try something new.

“We do not have any assistant principals and we do not have anyone with the title assistant superintendent,” Dr. Duncan said. “I don’t want to make it seem like those aren’t important roles, those are key roles.”

Instead, they have five SROs assigned to each school, another one serves as the SRO supervisor and two more have dual roles in the district.

“I know not everyone can afford it, but there are other ways now,” Dr. Duncan said.

The district pays the full salaries of all eight of those positions.

“And, all of our officers carry the same duty weapons, same equipment which are all 100 percent school district provided,” Anthony Roberts said. “Their vehicles are also district provided.”

“We will seek it out and find a way to do it if it means our kids will be safer,” Dr. Duncan said.

It’s possible that in the future the state could get more involved.

“I think you’ll see some legislative action, trying to find out what the best policies are,” Governor Parson said.

In a statement sent to Heartland News from Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe, he echoed the governor’s remarks.

“Per the Executive Order, the Task Force was dissolved upon delivering its final report to the governor,” Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe said. “With two legislators serving as members of the Task Force, I am certain the recommendations included in the Task Force’s report, including having an SRO in every school, will be a topic of discussion in the upcoming legislative session.”

But for now, your school district will pick up the tab, forcing them to make some tough calls when it comes to education and safety.

Heartland News also reached out to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to find out if there’s a way to track how schools across the state utilize and pay for school resource officers.

According to DESE, Missouri schools are not required to report this information to the state.

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