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Security officers required in Kentucky schools under newly-enacted legislation

Fayette County Public Schools

Among the hundreds of laws passed in the 2022 session of the Kentucky General Assembly that went into effect last week was House Bill 63, a measure requiring a school resource officer, or SRO, in every school in the commonwealth.

The law comes three years after the School Safety and Resiliency Act, 2019’s Senate Bill One, which implemented new school security programs and encouraged schools to hire an SRO. HB 63 takes the initial legislation a step further by requiring the officers. However, lawmakers offered no additional funding to offset the cost of placing an SRO in every school building.

The unfunded mandate left area school boards to find, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars to create or expand school security programs. Hart County Schools Superintendent Nathan Smith said it may be well into the 2022-2023 school year before his district’s SRO program is fully staffed.

“We may start the year one or two less but with the understanding that the ones that we hire or rehire are going to the academy to be trained,” Smith said.

Hart County currently needs three additional SROs to fully comply with HB 63. Smith said he is working with county Sheriff Jeff Wilson to identify retired law enforcement officers that could step into an SRO position. A retired officer would still be required to undergo additional academy training, which Smith said will push back the time frame for placing an officer in every school.

“He’s [Sheriff Jeff Wilson] trying to be thorough, detailed, and get people that have vast experience behind them in order to be able to do the job. He’s also looking for people that have the proper mindset that they’re inviting to students to build a quality relationship,” Smith explained.

In Simpson County, Superintendent Tim Schlosser is working to hire four new SROs to have an officer on each of his district’s campuses.

“We’ve got five campuses and we have one school resource officer for our entire district,” Schlosser said. “But in June our board approved to hire four more, so we’re going to have five SROs in our district this year.”

Simpson County’s SRO program will cost approx. $300,000 annually. Schlosser said the officers are meant to protect students, but he hopes the SROs will integrate within the campus community and create positive interactions between students and law enforcement.

“When we place them in a school, we want them to be part of that school- just like a staff member. They’ll use them accordingly.”

While school boards in Hart and Simpson counties were able to fully fund school resource officer programs, districts unable to place an officer in every school are required to meet with the state school safety marshal to identify a plan for full compliance with HB 63. That is the case for both public school districts in Daviess County: Owensboro Public Schools and Daviess County Public Schools.

The Owensboro Times reports both districts are unable to fund the program and will meet with the marshal to chart a path forward. Owensboro Public Schools Board Chair Melissa Decker said the GOP-controlled General Assembly didn’t consider the struggles of cash-strapped school districts when passing the bill.

“There is not a lot of extra money floating around. So on top of that our legislators came up with this brilliant idea to have yet another unfunded mandate,” said Decker in a May board meeting. “It would be fantastic to be able to have an SRO in each one of our buildings, but I think those legislators need to figure out where we’re going to pull money from.”

Districts unable to fully fund SROs will meet regularly with the safety marshal until sufficient funding is found. Some lawmakers indicated the possibility of revisiting funding for SROs after the number of school districts able to self-fund a school resource officer program is clear.

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