Security grant to help fund SROs at all city schools

Published 4:53 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2018

With the State of Tennessee putting an emphasis on school safety, Elizabethton City Schools, Elizabethton Police Department and City Council are partnering together to help ensure security remains throughout the district.

Currently, there are two dedicated student resource officers within the school system — Elizabethton High School and T.A. Dugger Junior High School — with each of the elementary schools also receiving security from policemen from regular patrols and school tours. However, each of the three elementary schools in the city do not have a dedicated position for an officer.

Moving forward, the implementation of SROs at each school within the city is gaining traction and now assistance is on the way thanks in part to the Safety Schools Act that passed in April through state government.

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In the act ushered in by Gov. Bill Haslam, schools across the state are receiving additional grant funding to help with school security. Officials with ECS indicated that roughly $80,000 in one-time funding is expected to come through this year and that funding will go toward helping fund the salaries of additional SROs.

Elizabethton Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour indicated Tuesday that once funding comes in, it would be directly transferred over to the city to help fund the SRO program.

“We want to thank City Council, Police Chief (Jason) Shaw and the entire department for their support of this program,” Gardenhour said. “This wouldn’t be possible without the support from everyone involved.”

Gardenhour added EPD has been an asset in keeping schools secure over the years.

According to a letter provided by the director to City Council, the estimate of reoccurring money is around $16,000, which can be put toward a salary if funded each year.

“Currently, we receive about $13,000, which is part of our match for one of our officers,” Gardenhour stated in the letter. “A total of $29,000 of reoccurring dollars should be available if the estimates are accurate.”

Chief Shaw added the hope is to add SROs to each of the elementary schools through the school year.

“I have officers that attended SRO training over the summer and are ready to be assigned to a school. However, I have to hire officers to fill the positions they would leave and there is a funding gap in our budget that keeps me from that.”

The sustainability does come down to funding, the Chief added.

“Without additional revenue coming in to the city that will sustain additional officers, I can’t hire additional officers, and I can’t take officers from needed positions elsewhere,” he said. “We are being optimistic and depending on applying for a hiring grant from the COPS office to hopefully fill the funding gap we need.  In the past, these type grants fund 75 percent of salaries for three years.  There has been a hold up on the application process for that grant program and I am watching for developments and the release of the information and guidance on that grant.  It is great to hear that Dr. Gardenhour may have secured some of the needed funding to help in this process.”

Other projects could also be around the bend for officials.

City Council will vote on a second and final reading Thursday evening for a resolution to provide the school system $275,000 from the half-cent sales tax fund for a variety of projects, ranging from academics, school security and athletics.

One of the biggest improvements ECS is eyeing for the future is improvements at Elizabethton High School to facilitate the growth of the Bartley Program, a second-year educational offered by the XQ Super School. Entering its second year of existence, the program is expected to grow from 40 students to over 400 at the high school. Dr. Corey Gardenhour, City Director of Schools, indicated that roughly $150,000 of the half-cent sales tax will go toward building six new classroom areas. The overall total cost of work at the school is around $325,000 but the director added the system would use part of a donation that was received to assist with costs.

The remaining portion of the sales-tax money would go toward: grading and seeding of property near Rogosin Drive for soccer fields, along with permits and providing water ($85,000) and $40,000 for repairs to the roof of central office.