KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- The region’s largest school district is proposing to put an officer in every school across the district.
Right now only about half of the schools are covered with a designated School Resource Officer every day.
“Currently we have four full-time SROs and four part-time SROs, the part-time SROs are retirees that can work a limited schedule,” said Jim Nash, the Chief Student Services Officer for the system. “The city geographically — they’re always in close proximity should there be a need. Our SROs that are on-site… if needed can go from one school to another. So, we’re able to cover in other ways.”
KCS data shows that the district has some of the least amount of School Resource Officer coverage across the region.
Right now — two of the full-time SROs are at Dobyns-Bennett High School. There is one at both middle schools. The four part-time officers rotate through the eight elementary schools, Cora Cox Academy and D-B Excel Program.
“We started our safety task force following the Parkland shooting in Florida several years ago and so that has been part of the discussion of that group for several years,” Nash said. “It’s time for the budget cycle and anything that’s new, we have to put in the budget process. It has to be put in by our board of education then the overall budget goes to the [Board of Mayor and Aldermen].”
As the city of Kingsport grows, enrollment could potentially increase therefore having an impact on the budget.
“A big chunk of school funding comes from the state but the city of Kingsport… other than capital projects- that’s a different kind of rule,” said Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull. “We provide maintenance of effort money- right now, we’re over 13 million dollars a year. If we increase that maintenance of effort, that’s locked in permanently unless there was a dramatic decrease in enrollment, which I don’t foresee. “
Currently — Kingsport Police Department has 12 open positions across the department and that doesn’t include what would be needed for the school system.
“Our authorized strength would be around 100 sworn officers and our population keeps growing – the last census we grew over 7500 [people], said Shull. “What concerns me is our shortage of police officers.”
Officers moved to the system wouldn’t be new hires.
“The Kingsport Police Department has an outstanding working relationship with our community partners at the Kingsport City Schools, and we are strong advocates of the School Resource Officer program. We have witnessed firsthand the positive results from having a Police Officer presence in our schools. We look forward to further discussions on this subject and working cooperatively with the Kingsport City Schools toward developing a plan to address this challenging issue.”Kingsport Police Dept. Spokesman
Along with safety, building relationships is a priority of both the police department and school system.
“The students know them, they know the students, they develop relationships with them. If students or families have questions, they can come to the SROs and talk to them,” Nash said. “We pray that we don’t but if we have an emergency situation then we know we have a Kingsport police officer on-site to address that.”
This will be a gradual increase in SROS and could happen in a number of different ways over a period of time. The Cora Cox Academy and D-B Excel program are the first priority in receiving a full-time officer each.