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Sunday, June 30, 2013
The original editorial stated that Christiansburg police had assigned an officer to Falling Branch Elementary School because of concerns related to a nearby park and ride lot. The assignment was a temporary measure to address parents’ concerns about bus passengers trying to access school facilities. It ended in May after the Montgomery County school system assigned private security to the school.
In the aftermath of the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn., Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly agreed to pump $1.3 million of new money into a state incentive fund that helps localities put police resource officers in public schools.
Earlier this month, McDonnell announced that 24 localities — including Montgomery County — will receive grants to help fund salaries and benefits for resource officers in 42 elementary, middle and high schools.
“This is a vital part of our efforts to do everything we can to assure safe and secure schools for every Virginia student,” McDonnell said.
Unfortunately, “everything” the state can do amounts to a fraction of what it takes to pay and equip school resource officers for the long haul. Localities must provide matching funds for salaries and benefits and pay the full cost for training and equipment. And when the state grants expire, localities will shoulder the entire cost of keeping the officers in schools.
Those are just some of the issues Montgomery County supervisors must consider before deciding whether to accept state grants to put resource officers in as many as four county elementary schools.
All of the county’s high schools and middle schools already have resource officers assigned to them. When the state Department of Criminal Justice Services solicited applications for additional grant funding earlier this spring, the Montgomery Sheriff’s Office jumped at an opportunity to put resource officers in four elementary schools: Auburn, Belview, Eastern Montgomery and Prices Fork.
“I wasn’t going to be one sitting back saying, ‘There’s an opportunity here; I’m not going to take it,’ ” Sheriff Tommy Whitt told the board of supervisors Monday night. “Unfortunately, we have to put it on your shoulders to make that decision.”
Each grant pays up to $50,000 toward salary and benefits. Based on the composite index formula for school funding, the state would pay nearly $30,000 and the county’s match would be a bit more than $20,000. Equipment and training would push the county’s total cost to nearly $64,000 per officer in the first year. The county would have to reapply for each grant in subsequent years, but the state’s share would decrease by 25 percent annually and expire after four years.
Funding isn’t the only issue the supervisors have to consider. Fairness is another. The sheriff’s office applied to put resource officers in the four elementary schools located outside of the towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg. The two towns have seven elementary schools within their limits.
The Christiansburg Town Council opted not to apply for a state grant because of cost-sharing requirements and long-term funding obligations. The town temporarily assigned an officer to Falling Branch Elementary School because of safety concerns related to a neighboring park and ride lot. Blacksburg police are working toward assigning a resource officer to rotate among the four elementary schools within the town.
It’s hard to argue with Supervisor Mary Biggs, a teacher at Blacksburg’s Harding Avenue Elementary School, who said that residents of the two towns pay county taxes and should expect the same level of protection for their school children.
“If you’re going to talk about school safety, I want all kids to feel safe and have the same benefit,” said Biggs, who also commended the sheriff’s office for seeking the grants.
Whitt deserves credit for going after the grant funding. But the supervisors are right to ask questions about the strings that are attached and about the consequences for Montgomery elementary schools.
The governor and the General Assembly made a big deal about funding school resource officers. But they left the tough decisions to local governments.
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