SRO Debate

Lynn Millsaps

Mike Cartwright

Judy Keller

Jimmy Park

Judy Sampson Jones
At Monday nights council meeting, Loudon City officials once again took up the debate as to whether or not they should provide security for the three schools within the city. 

According to Loudon City officials, it costs more than $150,000.00 per year for the two SRO's. The school board has been donating about $30,000.00 per year to the city to help defray the cost to the city for the two officers. The school board also has a similar per officer arrangement with the Sheriff's office for their four SRO's.

Some months ago, Loudon asked the county school system to pick up the entire cost of what they said it cost them for the two officers, $150,000.00. Later they modified that request to an additional $30,000.00 per year bringing the cost to the schools to $60,000.00 per year.

In May the school board adopted their budget that did include a much smaller increase than the city had requested but this didn't satisfy the city.

Ultimately, at Monday's meeting, councilman Lynn Milsaps made a motion to pull the SRO's from the schools unless the school board paid the entire $150,000.00 in funding. The motion was seconded by councilwoman, Judy Sampson Jones. However the motion failed by a 3-2 vote with councilmen Mike Cartwright, Jimmy Park and mayor Judy Keller voting against the motion.

Immediately after the vote, the mayor, Ms. Keller, who voted not to remove the officers, looked at me, yes I went to the meeting, and said this would be "your last chance" (meaning the school board). This would be the last time she would vote to leave the officers in the schools and that we, the school board, had till our next meeting to decide if we were going to provide the additional funding. I asked her if she was referring to the $150,000.00 or the $30,000.00 we had been asked for. She said the $30,000.00. She said if we didn't give the money she would add her vote next month to pull the officers.

Here's what puzzles me. City officials have said repeatedly and again Monday night that if they do pull the SRO's from the schools they did not plan to make any layoffs within the police department. So how does pulling the two officers out of the schools save the city any money? They do say that somehow it would save them some overtime but if they do pull the officers from the schools, they will certainly lose the $30,000.00 per year the school board has been donating to the city for years. Councilman Cartwright tried to explain this math to the rest of the council.

So who is responsible for security of the schools inside the Loudon City limits? As I told the council Monday night, the school board is not in the security/policing business. We're in the education business. We have nine schools throughout the county and we depend on the law enforcement professionals in those jurisdictions where the schools were located to provide security and I hoped the city of Loudon would continue to provide security for the students and teachers of the schools in the City Of Loudon.

Loudon is facing some serious financial issues with the loss of property tax revenues from their two biggest industries who are contesting their tax assessments. Loudon residents are about to see a property tax increase and from the discussions Monday night, some are likely to see a new garbage fee established. But the Loudon County school system can't be expected to help bail the city out of their financial problems.

School resource officer jobs on line in Loudon's uncommon not to see school resource officers inside education facilities in this day and age. The extra safety could be removed from three Loudon County Schools this upcoming school year.

Loudon Elementary, Ft. Loudon Middle and Loudon High Schools are all located in the Loudon city limits. The city pays for two SROs in those three county schools.

The city of Loudon said they are in a pinch. They want the school board to offer a bigger reimbursement to help cover security expenses.

The recent request asks for $30,000 extra annually, meaning the county's total annual reimbursement to the city for SROs would be more than $59,000.

The city of Loudon said, counting salary and benefits, it costs $150,000 combined to employ the two school officers each year.

"The school resource officers, when school starts, will be in the school. But, they are subject to being pulled out of the schools once city council meets again," said Loudon City Manager Lynn Mills.

"I'm a little surprised, just to be honest," said Loudon County School Director Jason Vance. "I thought we were going to be able to work through this for one more year and look at the plans in the future, but I'm certainly willing to work with anybody and make sure we're providing a safe environment for our students."

The city is asking parents to reach out to county commissioners and school board members. The next city council meeting is August 20.