County Receives State Funding for All Five SROs

August 7, 2023
By: Dwayne Page

Funds received!

Sheriff Patrick Ray said the county has now received state money for each of the five schools to fund the School Resource Officer (SRO) positions. Each school has been granted $75,000 for a total allocation from the state of $375,000 to be administered by the sheriff’s department in operating the SRO program.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee General Assembly adopted legislation proposed by Governor Bill Lee to fund up to $75,000 per school in Tennessee for an SRO Officer. In DeKalb County, the sheriff had to apply for the state funds which are recurring each year and in June the county commission gave its approval for the sheriff’s grant application to the state.

“On June 26, the county commission approved for me to go ahead and apply for the $75,000 for each school. That was a total of $375,000, ” said Sheriff Ray. “On June 30, Director of Schools Patrick Cripps and I signed a memorandum of understanding, and I applied that day for the $75,000 per school. On July 21, the state department of safety approved that application and on August 3 we received the total amount of $375,000”.

For the last several years the sheriff’s department has had SROs working at each of the five schools in DeKalb County funded locally, three of them by the county and two by the school district. All five SRO’s work for the sheriff and their salaries are in his budget.

“The school system and the county commission came together a few years ago to fund all five SRO positions. We already had one SRO officer at the high school but when they decided there was a need for a school resource officer at each school the county and school board put money toward that so that we were able to have school resource officers in each school,” said Sheriff Ray.

Instead of local funding, Sheriff Ray said the state is now allocating $75,000 per year for each of the five schools in the county administered by the sheriff’s department to pay the salaries of SRO officers and for SRO related needs.

“We have five schools here including Smithville Elementary, Northside Elementary, DeKalb West School, DeKalb Middle School, and DeKalb County High School. The SRO officers already stationed there will remain including Roger Whitehead at Smithville Elementary, Joe Pack at Northside Elementary, Joseph Carroll at DeKalb Middle School, Sergeant Chris McMillen at DCHS, and Billy Tiner at DeKalb West School,” he said.

Sheriff Ray also explained the training and duties required of an SRO officer.

“A regular deputy can’t just go to school and become a school resource officer. To be an SRO, proper training is required with protocols to follow regarding juveniles. That and much more is part of the schooling they must have,” Sheriff Ray continued.

“We require SROs to stay on campus the whole-time school is going on. They also work ballgames because sometimes tempers flare, so we want to make sure an officer is there to protect parents and children at ballgames,” he said.

“SROs get comp time rather than overtime and when school is out at the end of the year SROs take time off using their comp time if they have enough. Even with the ballgames sometimes they don’t have enough comp time so in that case they come in and help us with court, transports, civil service, and things like that”.

“We take the pay for each SRO officer out of that $75,000 the state provides for each school and whatever is left we buy equipment or whatever is needed to benefit the SRO,” said Sheriff Ray. “These five SROs have a variable range of experience, and their salaries are determined by a pay tier (wage scale) we have at the sheriff’s department. Some of the SROs are on a different tier which makes their salaries vary from the others. For example, the SRO at the high school is a sergeant so his pay is a little more. Of course, the more each officer earns, the less state money there is available to spend at each school on supplies,” Sheriff Ray continued.

“At Northside Elementary, after we took out the SRO salary from the state funding, a total of $10,610 was left. Smithville Elementary, DeKalb Middle School, and DeKalb West School each had $8,462 remaining and at DCHS we had $6,920 left to spend this year. We can’t combine the leftover money. For example, we are not allowed to combine what’s left from the middle school and the high school to make one large purchase for just one school. The allocated money for each school has to be spent at that school for their SRO related needs. However, we can’t use this money for other security features like camera systems or bullet proof glass for the schools or anything like that. Those type things have to be purchased from different grants available through the school system,” said Sheriff Ray.

“We recently had some training by the department of safety on what we could use the money for and since July 1st we have purchased some bullet proof vests, radios, weapons, and other things the (SROs) needed at the schools. The department of safety instructed us to do that because they wanted us to be ready for when school started this month,” said Sheriff Ray.

Now that the state has funded the county’s five SRO positions, Sheriff Ray will use already allocated funds in his budget (currently for SROs) to add another detective and two more deputies to his staff to better help the department with an ever-increasing workload. In fact, he has already made those hires.

“In turn for the county getting relieved of funding three of the SRO positions, the county commission on June 26 voted to allow me to keep $196,000 (previously budgeted for 3 SRO officers) to fund the positions of one detective and two deputies. Since then, I have been very blessed to be able to find certified officers who are from DeKalb County to fill those positions. In my detective spot, I hired Chris Russell, who has been in law enforcement for 24 years in DeKalb County. In the deputy positions I hired two former sheriff’s department employees, Shane Martin and Logan Roller. Martin has 15-1/2 years of law enforcement experience, most of that time here at the sheriff’s department. Roller worked for me 5-1/2 years. These three men bring with them a total of more than 44 years of law enforcement experience. We are very blessed to have them because it’s very hard to find patrol officers and correctional officers and we were concerned it might be difficult to fill these positions due to so many SRO jobs becoming available across the state, but we were able to find these men rather quickly. They are all certified officers and that will save the county the expense of having to send anyone to the state academy because that costs about $4,000 per officer plus we would have had to pay someone noncertified to go to the academy for training. Even though there are a few things they will have to learn such as procedures we follow and paperwork, reports we have to do, we can pretty much put these three men on the road and start them to work because they already have the experience,” said Sheriff Ray.

Meanwhile, another SRO is needed at the high school according to Sheriff Ray and he has asked Director of Schools Patrick Cripps for the school district to continue funding one SRO position to give DCHS a total of two SROs. A decision on that will be left to the school board.

“I had met with Director Cripps a few months ago to discuss having an extra school resource officer being placed at the high school. A second high school resource officer would also be used to fill in for an SRO at one of the other schools in their absence due to sickness or other reasons. The way we have been handling that is to use the middle school SRO to substitute for an SRO at one of the other schools and to have the high school SRO cover both the high school and middle school but that makes it hard on the high school SRO because DCHS is our busiest place in the school system as far as what SROs do. Having an additional high school SRO would be helpful in assisting the current SRO there now with his day to day needs while being available to cover for an SRO at one of the other schools if he had to be out. Director Cripps said that he would discuss that with the school board,” said Sheriff Ray.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Ray has announced that neither Northside Elementary nor DeKalb West School will have DARE classes this year (2023-24) as the course is being transitioned from the fifth grade to the sixth grade starting next school year (2024-2025).

D.A.R.E. is a Sheriff’s Department-led series of classroom lessons that teaches fifth graders in DeKalb County how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives.

“Two of our school resource officers are DARE officers, Joseph Carroll and Billy Tiner. This will be the first year we will miss DARE in order to move from the fifth grade to the sixth grade. Although this was not an issue at DeKalb West School, we are going to start teaching sixth grade DARE next year at both DeKalb West and Northside Elementary because Officer Carroll is at the middle school (grades 6-8) and the fifth grade is at Northside Elementary School (grades 2-5) so he would have had to swap out with the SRO there (Northside) for every week of the 10 week DARE class he taught. By changing DARE from fifth to sixth grade the SROs that teach DARE would be at their own schools and would not have to move back and forth to be able to teach DARE. The fifth graders will miss DARE this year, but they will have it in the sixth-grade next year. From then on DARE will continue being taught in the sixth grade,” said Sheriff Ray.

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