Commissioners Will Jordan (left) and Steve Sandlin discuss expanding the School Resource Officer Program during a Jan. 10, 2013, meeting at the Rutherford County Courthouse in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/M. Kemph)
Although members of the Rutherford County Commission expressed strong support Thursday for a proposal to add a full-time school resource officer to every elementary school, some commissioners balked at the price tag and the few options they have to fund it.
“I do think this is something that should to be included in the next budget,” Commissioner Steve Sandlin said during a Rutherford County Budget Committee meeting held at the Rutherford County Courthouse in downtown Murfreesboro.
“But, it does need to go through the committee process,” he said, adding he hopes officials with the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office will be able to implement the program at each elementary school in time for the 2013-2014 academic year, which begins in August.
Sheriff Robert Arnold met with members of the Budget Committee to discuss adding 11 more resource officers, which would put one in each Rutherford County elementary school, in response to the Newtown, Conn., shooting that occurred in December 2012.
On Dec. 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Before driving to the elementary school, which did not have a resource officer, Lanza killed his mother at their nearby home.
When officers arrived at the scene, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head before he could be taken into custody, according to Connecticut law enforcement officials.
Since the incident occurred, educators and politicians from all across the country, including those in Rutherford County, have started advocating for increased security at elementary schools.
The sheriff’s proposal comes at the behest of the Rutherford County Public Safety Committee.
After the committee requested an estimate, Arnold found the proposed increase in resource officers at Rutherford County elementary schools would require $1.2 million in start-up costs. Those funds, Arnold said, would be allotted to pay for the additional salaries and benefits, as well as the required training fees and equipment for each officer.
That amount would then reduce to an estimated annual cost of $583,000.
The plan does not include the two new positions that will be needed at Stewarts Creek High School when it opens in August, he said.
Across the 45 Rutherford County school system, the Sheriff’s Office currently employs 44 resource officers, of which two full-time deputies are at each of the six high schools, excluding Holloway High School, which has one.
Central Magnet, Daniel McKee, Smyrna West and Eagleville schools also have one full-time resource officer assigned, as do all Rutherford County middle schools. Most elementary schools share a deputy throughout the academic year.
Don Odom, director of Rutherford County Schools, has also thrown his support behind the proposal, saying he believes the issue should be at the forefront of budget negotiations, which will begin later this month.
“Rutherford County Schools has a thriving school resource officer program already in place, however, the district supports the proposal for a full-time officer in every school,” Odom said Tuesday during a press conference at the Sheriff’s Office.
“My first priority would be to have uniformed officers in the building,” he said.
Given the situation and recent comments he has received from constituents, Commissioner Robert Peay Jr. said he asked Arnold to discuss the plan so that fellow members could begin assessing how best to fund the positions and implement the program.
“I have yet to have anyone in my district tell me that we do not need to do this,” Peay said to his fellow Budget Committee members, “and that is why I wanted this proposal to be heard, so that we can begin working on how to include it in the budget.”
Because of the cost to implement the program, commissioners discussed the possibility of a penny increase in the Rutherford County property tax rate, an idea that garnered little praise.
Commissioner Will Jordan suggested the committee not let emotions get the better of them before they think the proposal through fully, but he noted that the proposal seems to be the best option for the county.
“I want to make sure we do this appropriately before we spend $1.2 million of taxpayer dollars,” Jordan said. “I just want to make sure we investigate everything thoroughly.”
When asked after the meeting whether he believes the proposal will eventually pass the County Commission, Arnold said he remained confident.
“I think the political will is there,” he said. “Rutherford County has been ahead of the curve for 20 years. We were the first to have the program in the state of Tennessee, and we will continue to lead by example.”