WSAZ Investigates | Safety Shortchanged

WSAZ Investigates | Safety Shortchanged
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 6:37 PM EDT
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CARTER COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) - School districts say safety is the number one priority.

House Bill 63 mandates there must be a school resource officer (SRO) at all school campuses in Kentucky.

WSAZ surveyed school districts in Eastern Kentucky and found a majority of them fall short of meeting the unfunded mandate.

The deadline to implement the new mandate was Aug. 1, 2022.

State law requires Floyd County Schools to have 13 SROs.

The district currently only has four as of Aug. 30, according to Bobby Akers, public information officer for Floyd County Schools.

Floyd County Schools has received our approval letter from the Kentucky Office of the State School Security Marshal approving their plan to meet the mandates of House Bill 63 and KRS 158.4414.

In Martin County, state law requires the district to have five on staff but has zero. Martin County Schools Superintendent Larry James told WSAZ that finding qualified officers has been an obstacle.

Superintendents tell WSAZ that funding and personnel are the biggest obstacles facing districts.

In Carter County, according to Dr. Paul Green, the district would need to employ or contract eleven SROs but only has two.

Dr. Green said he understands the need to meet the mandate, maybe more than other districts since the tragedy has hit there before.

In 1993, Scott Pennington, a student at East Carter High School, shot and killed a teacher and a custodian. Pennington held classmates hostage before finally surrendering to police.

“You have to be prepared that this could happen. We know this because it has happened and there’s no denying it,” Dr. Green said.

Superintendent Green and others WSAZ spoke with said their biggest obstacles to adding the needed SRO’s are funding and personnel.

Carter County School’s price tag for 11 SROs adds up to about $1 million for one year.

“It is unreasonable expectation for school districts?” WSAZ’s Kimberly Keagy asked.

“There is no long-term budgetary mechanism to fund SROs. If we did that, we would take classroom teachers out of the classroom, lay off teachers and other staff in order to hire SROs for our district,” Green said.

Lawmakers passed the bill in the spring and did not provide any extra money leaving schools to come with funding and qualified officers in just a few months.

House Bill 63 states, “If sufficient funds and qualified personnel are not available for this purpose for every campus, the local board of education shall fulfill the requirements of this subsection on a per campus basis, as approved in writing by the state school security marshal, until a certified school resource officer is assigned to and working on-site full-time on each campus in the district.”

Keagy asked Sen. Robin Webb if she believed lawmakers shortchanged school safety.

“I don’t like unfunded mandates. I think we need to put our money where our mouth is,” Sen. Webb said.

Keagy: “When you head back to the session this year, do you have plans and hopes of helping districts meet those expectations?”

Webb: “Yes. And also, can we do it any other way outside of the mandate of SRO specific. Can we train or do something with another population or existing population?”

Green hopes lawmakers help struggling districts falling short in the next session.

“Everybody is always going to support school safety initiatives,” he said. “The problem is that when the school safety initiative was passed that had all these different things that put the expectations on schools, and there was no funding to support that. I agree SROs are an important part about schools, and I think all campuses should have SROs.”

Green said SROs are just one component of many that play a role in keeping students safe.

The district implemented heightened security measures through the years to keep students as safe as possible.

Ben Wilcox, the State’s School Security Marshal, said there’s been a 21% increase in SROs covering 50% of the campuses within the state of Kentucky.

However, when there’s a mandate the percentage is bound to increase.

A new administrative regulation was filed by the Department of Criminal Justice Training, which houses the Office of the State School Security Marshal last week.

A public hearing for the regulation is scheduled for Nov. 22.