Keep SRO position at Blue Ridge Elementary School

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Council Member Angie Arp is on a crusade to save money. “Are we getting our money’s worth?” asked Arp numerous time during the Sept. 19th Special Called meeting of the Blue Ridge City Council. One of her proposed ideas for City of Blue Ridge budget rewrite is eliminating the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Blue Ridge Elementary School. Arp brought up eliminating the SRO position at the Sept. 6thBlue Ridge City Council meeting. At the Sept.19th meeting, Arp agreed to wait until the SRO’s current one year contract to run its course before re-proposing to eliminate the position.

All five schools in Fannin County have a School Resource Officer. The county government funds two officers, the Board of Education funds two officers and the City of Blue Ridge funds one officer. At first, only the middle and high schools had SRO’s. However, after December massacre of 20 elementary school students in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Sheriff Dane Kirby called Fannin County School Superintendent Mark Henson and said that the elementary schools need SROs. According to Superintendent Henson, the school system did not have enough money to fund the positions at that time, so the county promised to step in with two positions and City of Blue Ridge with one position. Mayor Donna Whitener said at the Sept. 19th meeting, “I am thankful we help them every year. She also stated, “We are elected to care for the city. If we have $50,000 Alicia (City Finance Director), let me know where it is.”

FetchYourNews contacted Blue Ridge Elementary School to find out what a SRO does. Lisa Jackson, BRES Student Information Specialist, described what she has seen of the SROs during her 16 years at the elementary school. “Kids feel like the SRO is their friend. The SRO directs traffic around the school and greets children in the morning. During lunch, the SRO goes to the lunchroom and mingles with students; their presence really helps with the behavior at lunchtime. SROs also assist with family conferences which could escalate into arguments. The presence of an SRO helps things stay calm. The SRO serves as the eyes of the school. We can’t get out on campus during the day.”

Superintendent Henson described some extra roles of the SROs. They aren’t school system employees, they work for the Sheriff’s Office, which gives them power of arrest said Henson. Because of this SROs are like back-ups for the Sheriff’s Office and can be called away from the school. Henson went on to recall when school SROs were called away to help other deputies find a man who stabbed several people, was on the loose and had a child with him. When officers found the man, they were able to rescue the child, who was a student at Fannin County Schools.

Sate policy does not require schools have SRO’s. The school system, the sheriff’s office and the City of Blue Ridge decided SROs are a public service that the three agencies can work together to provide.

The total cost for a SRO is $50,000 per year. This includes salary, health care, and employer taxes. Arp and fellow Council Member Rodney Kendall believe that the school system should fund all the SROs. Arp said that the school system could use SPLOST funds to pay for the position. Unbeknownst to Arp, SPLOST funds only pay for capital outlay projects. It is illegal to pay for salaries with SPLOST funds.

As parents we need to do something about this situation now. I can't tell you how many times I have witnessed an SRO helping in the community and our children. These are our children, this is their safety. As a parent of a child at BRES, I will fight this. My child's safety is more precious than your budget cut.

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