Jasper County school district to take on cost, add additional school officer

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comMay 14, 2013 

Jasper County School District officials say federal budget cuts and a lack of state funding have forced them to spend about $194,000 more next year to make schools safer.

The school board voted 9-0 Monday on second reading of a proposed budget for next school year that calls for five school-resources officers, one at each school. The district currently has four officers -- two of which are paid by the district and two paid for by the Jasper County Sheriffs Office through federal grant money that expires this year.

The budget includes about $290,000 for a school security plan -- an increase of about $194,000 from the previous year, according to district chief financial officer Gary West.

About $35,000 would be used to install new card-swipe technology at school entrances. The rest would cover the cost to contract with local law enforcement to provide the five officers.

Currently, the district pays about $96,000 to the Hardeeville Police Department and Jasper County Sheriff's Office to provide one officer each, West said. That is in addition two school resources officers provided by the sheriff's office through a three-year, $270,000 U.S. Justice Department grant, which expires at the end of June.

The Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Recovery program paid full benefits and salaries for the two school resource officers using federal stimulus funds that have since run out.

The district would now pay for all four school resources officersand add an officer at an alternative school, which currently relies on an officer at the high school a block away for emergencies.

"Safety and security of those in our schools is of prime importance," West said Tuesday. "The community has grown to expect and continues to expect us to provide safety and security for their children."

In the wake of the of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, the Justice Department has tweaked its COPS Hiring grants, already used by police departments to recruit new officers, to encourage police departments to employ more school-specific officers.

The deadline to apply is May 22. It was not clear Tuesday whether the Jasper County Sheriff's Office had applied.

Attempts Tuesday to reach Sheriff Gregory Jenkins were unsuccessful.

Superintendent Vashti Washington said recent events, such as the Newton shooting and the arrest May 1 of a Bluffton High student accused of bringing a loaded gun and other weapons to school, has made increased security necessary.

"We have been very fortunate -- considering the challenges we have as a small, rural district -- that we've not had any major gun violence issues in our schools," since she was hired in 2010, Washington said. "And I attribute that to the excellent services we've gotten from law enforcement."

Both the S.C. House and Senate are considering bills that would place a school resource officer in every school, but neither have made it out of committee, making them dead for the year.

The proposed budget will go before the school board for a final reading at their next meeting on May 28. Jasper County Council, though, has final say over the school district's budget, setting the property tax rate and an upper limit on spending.

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