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Commissioners grapple with school safety and its funding

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Of course, there’s the angle that school shooters make big news. While producers of video content who prefer gross-out violence to probing the human soul for deeper plots will site studies “proving” their sick storylines have nothing to do with real-world violence; the political narrative fears copycats each time a real school shooting takes place.

In business, it is bad to be reactionary, but in politics, it’s good for re-election. When a heartrending story of injustice breaks, those in power will pass measures, no matter how stupid and unrelated, claimed to put a lid on widespread repetition. If there’s a school shooting, hire SRO’s. The fad is the other half of a false dichotomy. P.S. Never let a good crisis go to waste.

But there’s another narrative muddying the waters. While very few still fear an out-of-control police state like the one that grew in Nazi Germany; many more want to stoke the fire by painting law enforcement as a whole as the new KKK. Normal people who choose to don a uniform to protect the peace are told there is evil in their hearts they can’t remove. Systemic racism cannot be eradicated. So, putting police in schools will force the children of minorities into truancy.

The question of hiring more cops was regurgitated because the school system had applied for a State Superintendent’s Office School Safety Grant in July and learned just recently they had been awarded $333,333.

The General Assembly created the fund for its 2018 budget with a $35 million in appropriations, due to “the recent climate surrounding school safety.” While the act increased SRO funding from $7 million to $12 million, it also set aside $2 million for students in crisis, $3 million for school safety training, $3 million for safety equipment, $10 million for behavioral health personnel, and $5 million to set up an anonymous safety hotline.

The sheriff’s office, the school system, and the county manager were all in favor of accepting the grant, Wood explaining the county’s direct share of the cost.

Salary and benefits for a single officer would be $68,929. The grant would allocate only $33,333 per officer, so the school decided to apply some of the total to paying officers who had been hired on a previous five-year grant that expired.

One problem with grants like this is the state and federal government pay local governments to grow their staff and taper the funding to zero, thereby putting jurisdictions in the awkward position of laying people off if they don’t raise taxes to continue to support the new hires. The free money, like firewater to the alcoholic, is irresistible; growing the budget, as natural as the next round. The current grant was good for only two years.

The county would also have to provide the officers with vehicles and other equipment. That brought the cost of employing six SROs to $669,030. Subtracting state and school contributions, the county would be on the hook for $483,073 the first year and $227,617 the second. Wood suggested pulling the funds from contingency accounts.

So, when society devolves to the point that people aren’t accepting responsibility for controlling themselves, do leaders hang around waiting and hoping for the bad guys to find the power within, or do they hire more police to protect the good guys from getting sucked into a life of dog-eat-dog? The commissioners approved the funding.

In a separate agenda item, Wood spoke in support of fulfilling another request from the schools. During the budget hearings, commissioners had objected to the tradition of giving schools and fire departments funds they request but then never receiving an accounting of how their appropriations were spent.

The commissioners adopted Al Whitesides’ suggestion that the county put the requests in the county’s fund balance and make the schools submit requests, with explanations, when they need the money. Baldwin was now making the request, largely citing uncontrollable payroll costs and an inability to identify sufficient funding elsewhere.

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