This coming school year, every county school could be staffed by a school resource officer.
Two developments may lead to a full complement of SROs, a longtime goal of Sheriff Chip Shuler, the school system and many parents.
Tuesday evening, the Board of Supervisors revealed that the county’s proposed budget for 2019-20 includes an additional SRO. Supervisors are expected to vote on that budget June 27.
Thursday brought news from Gov. Ralph Northam that 53 localities would receive grants totaling more than $3.47 million to fund new SRO positions at K-12 public schools. Smyth County was among those localities. It was awarded the funding for two SRO positions.
Through this past year, Smyth County was home to three county elementary schools – Atkins, Marion and Rich Valley – that didn’t have SROs but were monitored by officers from other positions.
Shuler was hopeful Thursday that those days are behind the county, saying, “We certainly hope the Board [of supervisors] will follow through with their commitment; this will allow us to staff all our schools with an SRO.”
Funding for the grants came from the state-funded School Resource Officer/School Security Officer Incentive Grant Program. Earlier this year, Northam approved the General Assembly’s amendment to add an additional $3 million for this program in order to increase the number of schools in the commonwealth with SROs or school safety officers.
Localities throughout the state were vying for the funds. The Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety received 91 grant applications
Shuler noted, “I am very proud of our grant writer, Gabe Johnson, for his hard work on writing and submitting the grant request and the board for allowing us to apply. I am very excited to get these additional deputies in place this fall.”
Earlier this year, Shuler had said, “I won’t be satisfied until we have one in every school.”
As a recipient of the grant, SROs are required to attend training on the roles and responsibilities of an SRO/SSO, legal issues in schools, adolescent brain development and trauma, mental health issues, students with disabilities, and more topics.
The grants will provide $50,641 for each SRO.
Of the county’s existing SROs, according to Shuler, the School Board funds three, the sheriff’s office provides funding for six out of its police activity fund generated by fines and fees, and state compensation board money covers an additional SRO.
The town of Saltville pays for an officer to serve Saltville Elementary.
“These additional positions will increase the number of SROs in Virginia by 10 percent,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni in a press release.
In that same release, Northam commented, “It is paramount that we continue to make smart investments to keep Virginia schools safe and to create supportive learning environments for our students. The SROs… hired through these grants not only make our schools safer, but also enhance our communities by building strong positive relationships with students, faculty and parents.”