ELIZABETHON, Tenn. (WJHL) – A high-ranking Tennessee lawmaker is calling on school resources officers in every school following the Uvalde, Texas shooting. Some districts in Northeast Tennessee struggle with a shortage of SROs in schools.
Rep. Jeremy Faison said he asked Gov. Bill Lee and the state Department of Education to provide the funding for every school to have an SRO before the 2022-23 school year.
“Is there a pot of money we can find to make sure that when our kids go back to school in August there’s a peace of mind knowing that every single school in Tennessee, whether they, the locals can afford it or not, has an officer that is trained to handle an issue like this?” Faison said.
Faison’s concern comes after a gunman killed 21, including 19 children, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday.
He said the recently passed Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA), the state’s new school funding formula, has millions included for schools to hire SROs.
But TISA kicks in 2024, and Faison does not want the state to wait.
“The new funding formula has enough money built in for each LEA (local education agency) to be able to afford whatever they need as far as SRO officers,” Faison said. “Whatever possible within the state that we can do that, we need to pursue it.”
In the Tri-Cities, Carter County Schools said they have been dealing with short-staffing in their SROs.
School Board Chair Tony Garland would not give specifics, but said they have the funding to have SROs in every Carter County school, but just can’t find the people.
“It’s funded. Our issue comes into the availability of the SRO officers,” Garland said. “If you’ve got a labor issue, how do you solve a labor issue? You’ve got to potentially have salary increases to fulfill that gap.”
Garland said the responsibility for finding new SROs is on the Carter County Sheriffs Office.
Some cities struggle with SRO coverage in every school too.
Kingsport and Bristol, Tennessee both have schools without officers. In Bristol, three officers split the district’s five elementary schools, but expanding to have an officer at every school brings financial concerns.
“There is of course a very sizable expense to equipping and training, and just the payroll cost,” said Bristol Director of Community Relations Jon Luttrell.
Luttrell said Bristol’s geographic size allows them to operate with fewer officers. He said response times would still be quick in the event of an emergency at a school.
But in Carter County, schools spread out from outside Elizabethton to Roan Mountain, bringing concerns about response times in emergency situations.
“The response time to one of our schools say on the outer ends. It could be 30 minutes, it could be 40 minutes,” Garland said.
Garland said Carter County Schools do have additional safety measures like perimeter fencing and single entrance points in buildings.