Members of the Cocke County Finance Committee met Monday with county educators in discussion regarding funding for school resource officers(SRO) Recent mass shootings around the country have prompted calls for increased school security measures. Although Cocke County has two high schools and nine elementary schools, the system currently has only three resource officers. Director of Schools Manney Moore said of primary concern is the distance to outlying schools in the case of an emergency. "Tennessee has more than twice the national average of incidents where students bring a firearm to school. That is pretty scary. And just 865 SRO's for more than a million students. So what we are going through is no different from our neighbors." Currently the sheriff's department is trying to pull four officers from patrol duty daily and assign them to school duties. Some off-duty officers also work at schools. The school system pays the SRO for the 180 day school year, and the sheriff's department pays the salary when school is not in session. An SRO in the system costs $44,000 annually including benefits. About $30,000 comes from schools and $14,000 from the sheriff's budget. The current three SRO officers cost a total of $134,800 annually. Mayor Crystal Ottinger said COPS grants would be available for short term funding, but require local funding after two years. She also pointed out that Governor Bill Haslam has appointed a school safety task force, which may provide some state funding for counselors and safety equipment such as metal detectors. Commissioner Love Henderson, who is a teacher, said during a recent school safety discussion a student asked her, "Ms. Henderson would you take a bullet for me ?" And she said the state is considering making SRO's manditory. "It would cost roughly $40 million to put an SRO in every school in Tennessee. But they are talking about making it mandatory, and if that happens we won't have an option but to do this." There has been talk about placing armed retired law officers in schools at a reduced cost, however currently every officer must be POST certified which adds a cost. The use of uncertified officers such as teachers, could open the system to liability if an incident was to occur. If there was an incident and officers arrive on the scene there is a concern that officers could mistake an armed teacher as the shooter. Sheriff Armando Fontes said any armed teacher would also be required to undergo extensive training to meet state standards. School Board Member Richard Coggins suggested there also could be issues with a teacher having a firearm on his side. "The teacher is responsible for teaching," he added. The committee agreed to have a workshop on the SRO funding issue at 6 pm March 26 in the Chancery courtroom.
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