Wythe County introduced its new School Resource Officers to local educators Thursday during the opening session of the Division Wide Professional Development Day at the Wytheville Meeting Center.
Afterward, the SROs were briefed at the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office.
“The biggest thing is to be visible and be approachable,” said Corp. Stu Vaught, who is assigned to George Wythe High School.
“There’s over 300 years of (law enforcement) experience in this room,” said Sheriff Keith Dunagan, whose office will oversee the SRO program.
So far, the county has hired 12 SROs; a total of 14 will eventually be hired: one for each school and one floater position who will cover for SROs who are sick or need time off. Four of the officers are full-time deputies. Ten are part-time employees who will work every day school is in session.
“I feel good about it,” Dunagan said. “I’ve thought all along that we need one in each school and the Board of Supervisors realizes it, too.”
Previously, the county had SROs in each high school. The decision to hire the SROs came after Dunagan informed county leaders in February that his office could no longer fund the SRO program. After months of back-and-forth between supervisors, the sheriff’s office and the school board, supervisors agreed to fund an officer for every school.
The cost to fund the SRO program is nearly $480,000. The county received a $33,560 grant to help pay for an officer and the sheriff agreed to pay $29,000 of the costs from his department’s Police Activity Fund – that amount covers the full-time SROs when they work for the sheriff’s department during the summer months.
At first, Dunagan thought it would take time to find qualified SRO candidates.
“Thank you for filling these positions,” he told the group Monday. “I really didn’t think I would get this many people, but everything just fell into place.”
Many of the SROs are retired from law enforcement. For example, Tommy Atkins recently retired from the Virginia State Police; he will be at Scott Memorial Middle School. George Sewell just retired from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control; he will be at the Wythe County Technology Center.
Cheyenne “Bo” Ayers worked as a deputy in Pulaski County for 17 years, including seven years as an SRO. He supervised the SROs for two of the years. He left the job to work in a family landscaping and mowing business while working part-time as a deputy in Wythe County.
He’s happy to be serving as an SRO again; he is one of the four full-time deputies. He will be at Fort Chiswell High School and Fort Chiswell Middle School, where his children attend school.
Former SRO and current deputy and Wythe County Supervisor Brian Vaught also thanked the SROs for their willingness to protect the schools.
“I’m going to be honest with you, this is my baby,” he said. “We have once chance to do this right and from the Board of Supervisors’ perspective, we are going to do this right, you are going to do this right.”
Brian Vaught has been a supervisor for eight months. He said that no matter how long he occupies a seat on the board, he will never do anything more important than the SRO program.
“The program is to build relationships with young people,” he said. “Nothing is more important than the kids walking through the building.”
Brian Vaught doesn’t have children, but his wife, Shannon, is the principal at Rural Retreat Middle School.
“I trust her safety with any one of you,” he said, adding that the public and local educators want an SRO in every school.
“We raised taxes and had people thank us,” he said. “And that doesn’t happen.”
Supervisors raised real estate property taxes by 5 cents this year to help pay for educational needs like capital improvements and the SRO program.
Kevin Buller, a full-time SRO at Rural Retreat High School, agreed that forging relationships with the students is a key factor of the job.
“Talk about cars. Talk about the girl he asked out on a date. Just make conversation with them,” he said. “Have a little fun with them, but let them know that if you need to, you can take care of business.”
First Sgt. Stacy Dixon, who will oversee the program and work in the floater position called the SROs “a good group of guys.”
“Remember to keep your head on swivel and keep everything safe,” he told the officers.
The SROs and their schools are:
Stacy Dixon: Floater (full time); Stu Vaught, GWHS (full time); Kevin Buller, RRHS (full-time); Bo Ayers, FCHS and FCMS (full time); Mike Edmonds, Rural Retreat Elementary School; Monty Mills, Spiller Elementary School; Randy Mitchell, Max Meadows Elementary School; Marty Dowdy, Sheffey Elementary School; George Sewell, WCTC; Joe Thomas, Jackson Elementary School; Tommy Atkins, SMMS; Mickey Bass, Speedwell Elementary School.
Officers need to be hired for the middle schools in Fort Chiswell and Rural Retreat.
To reach reporter Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.