CHRISTIANSBURG — After some uncertainty earlier this year, Montgomery County’s governing body decided on a 6-0 vote Monday night to provide the money to hire an additional school resource officer for at least one school year.
The approval of the funds comes some months after several members of the board and Sheriff Hank Partin asked that the real estate tax be raised to provide the funds needed to hire additional school resource officers.
Those demands came on the heels of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February. The aftermath reignited polarizing gun control debates, but also involved some conversations on the role of school resource officers during active shooter incidents on school campuses.
The board’s four Republicans, who form the majority of the elected body, blocked a proposed tax increase due to concerns about burdening taxpayers. They also viewed the immediate increasing of taxes for more school resource officers as a knee-jerk reaction to recent nationwide tragedies.
The four Republicans, however, backed a plan to put $85,000 in county savings in a contingency fund that they said could later be used to hire a school resource officer.
The board’s vote on Monday allows the county to direct $57,818 of that contingency fund toward a school resource officer job.
Supervisors, however, said Monday that there’s no absolute guarantee that the new position will remain in place past the 2018-2019 school year.
Supervisors Steve Fijalkowski, a Republican who proposed the plan earlier this year, said the county could use the following year to determine whether they want to discontinue the position or “add three more, if that is the way the school administration feels is best.”
When the board approved the $85,000 contingency fund in April, they didn’t promise that a school resource officer would be hired later. They instead said at the time that the county would address recent school safety concerns by first exploring security measures that don’t necessarily involve hiring additional law enforcement personnel.
Partin, citing safety reasons, declined on Monday to say exactly to which campus the new school resource officer would be assigned. He said he’s considered having the new hire rove between the four elementary schools outside of Blacksburg and Christiansburg town limits that each don’t have a resource officer on their campuses at all times.
Partin’s decision to not publicly disclose the officer’s assignment reflects a policy already employed by his agency and Blacksburg and Christiansburg, which each assign their own law enforcement personnel to the schools within the two towns’ limits.
Partin previously said that eight of the school district’s elementary schools do not have a resource officer on their campus at all times.
When he pushed for the tax increase, Partin requested that at least the four elementary schools outside of Blacksburg and Christiansburg town limits each get a resource officer. He said that the response times to those schools are generally longer due to those campuses not being near the two towns’ police departments.
“My goal from the get-go was to take care of those four … to take care of the ones that are farthest away,” Partin told supervisors.
Some supervisors Monday said that they will continue a push to put a school resource officer on each of the campuses.
“I’m not going to be happy until all the schools are covered,” Supervisor Mary Biggs, a Democrat, said. “Better start with one, I guess.”