Mayor Ernest Moore said Tuesday that Lynn Lawson, finance director for the Union County School District, told the town that the schools would be losing their SROs this fall. Moore said he spoke with Union County Sheriff David Taylor who told him that one SRO might be assigned to both schools, spending part of the school day at Lockhart Schools and part at Jonesville Elementary/Middle K-8 School. He said Taylor told him this was an option he was discussing with Union Public Safety Director Sam White and Superintendent Dr. David Eubanks.
Moore said he felt Jonesville’s police chief should have been involved in these discussions to present the town’s case for keeping its SRO. The reduction in SROs is being done for budgetary reasons, but Moore said he felt it would be a mistake to leave the schools without an SRO on campus for half the school day.
“I think there are better places to cut the budget than cutting out a School Resource Officer,” he said. “What happens if there is an emergency at one of the schools while the School Resource Officer is at the other school?
“We don’t live in the time when you wouldn’t have even brought a pocketknife to school,” he said. “We don’t live in the good old days when you didn’t need a police officer at school all day. We need our School Resource Officer, especially with a K-8 school. Not having one at the school is a bad idea.”
The SRO program was initiated in the 1990s with a federal grant awarded to the City of Union. Since the grant expired, the cost of the SROs have been shared by the district and the City of Union.
Lawson said the district is reducing the number of SROs because of the impact of cuts in state assistance on its 2009-2010 budget. He said the reduction is being made because it is a personnel reduction that least impacts classroom instruction. The goal of the district is to continue to maintain the level of classroom instruction while still balancing its budget.
“When I called them (Jonesville), it was to give them a budget heads up that while the school district currently has seven SROs our current budget planning shows us funding three SROs next year,” he said. “Because of cost-sharing with the city, the district will realize a net savings of $125,000 from the reduction.”
Of the seven current SROs, five are funded by the school district and two by the City of Union. While the SRO assigned to Jonesville’s schools is a member of the town’s police department, Lawson said their salary and other expenses are paid for by the district.
Lawson said Eubanks has been meeting with Taylor and White to discuss the matter. He said Taylor and White are involved because the schools are within their jurisdiction. The new Jonesville Elementary/Middle school is located at the intersection of U.S. 176 and New Hope Church Road, outside of Jonesville’s municipal limits and outside the jurisdiction of its police department.
Eubanks said the district is also having to reorganize its SRO program because of consolidation. He said the consolidation of Excelsior Middle and Sims Junior High schools into the new Sims Middle School and the consolidation of the Jonesville schools into Jonesville Elementary/Middle has reduced the need for as many SROs.
“We have reduced the number of schools and so we are able to reduce the number of SROs,” he said. “With this consolidation and the budget constraints we’re having to operate under, we felt we had to reduce the number of SROs from seven to three. Those three would be assigned to the Achievement Academy, Union County High School and Sims Middle School.”
As for Jonesville and Lockhart, Eubanks said discussions are still underway as to how to best serve them. This includes the option of having them share an SRO. He said that while he expects the number of SROs will be reduced the final number won’t be known until the Union County Board of School Trustees and Union City Council complete their 2009-2010 budgets.