Keaton: Requested funds would pay for two school resource officers

Published 5:20 pm Monday, June 20, 2022

Isle of Wight County Schools’ request to reallocate just under $300,000 won’t be enough to place a sheriff’s deputy in each of its five elementary schools, according to County Administrator Randy Keaton.

But it would fund “at least two of them,” Keaton told county supervisors at their June 16 meeting.

Virginia’s state budget allocates IWCS an extra $296,457 beyond what was expected. In the wake of the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the Isle of Wight School Board had asked supervisors to take an equal amount from the roughly $812,000 they’d voted in May to “set aside” from the school system’s budget and reallocate those funds to Sheriff James Clarke Jr. for the purpose of hiring additional school resource officers.

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Isle of Wight’s two high schools and two middle schools already have a designated deputy assigned to them during the school year. Patrol deputies also routinely visit the elementary schools but aren’t stationed there every day.

Clarke’s 2022-23 budget currently includes funding for four new deputies. At present, the plan is for one of the new hires to rotate among the elementary schools as a designated resource officer.

At the supervisors’ June 16 meeting, Clarke added his own voice to those pushing for action to fund additional SROs.

“Nobody is more excited about SROs in the schools than I am,” he said.

But learning the requested funding would only cover two officers, Supervisor Don Rosie called for “not fast-forwarding” the proposal, and instead looking at other means of hardening the schools against the possibility of an armed intruder, such as “entrance features and access.”

Supervisor Joel Acree is also pushing for the county to send the issue up to Richmond and Virginia’s Compensation Board, which provides partial state funding for local law enforcement departments.

“Why hasn’t the State Comp Board, with this being such a hot issue, stepped forward and said this is as important as security in our courthouses?” Acree asked.

According to Keaton, the money the Compensation Board provides Isle of Wight is well below what it takes to hire the number of officers and provide the salaries the county currently offers.

“We know the state is not going to move that fast, so we’re going to have to bear the brunt (of the cost),” said Chairman Rudolph Jefferson.

Supervisor William McCarty agreed with Rosie that SROs should not be a “single solution.”

“I’m not diminishing that, they have their proper place, but there’s a whole lot more that goes to security,” McCarty said.

Supervisor Dick Grice turned the conversation to Isle of Wight County Schools’ 736 employees, of which 522 receive state funding as the minimum number of employees required under the Virginia Department of Education’s standards of quality.

According to Keaton, the standards of quality put IWCS in much the same position as the Compensation Board does with Isle of Wight’s Sheriff’s Office, where the state funding is insufficient to fund every position or, in some cases, a competitive salary.

“My question is, what’s it costing?” Grice asked. “If we’re paying a position, an SOQ position, $50,000 more a year than what’s allocated, there’s something wrong.”

The supervisors ended up taking no action on the proposed $296,457 request for SROs other than to schedule a 3 p.m. work session for July 21, at which the issue will be revisited.