WEST ALEXANDRIA — Twin Valley Community Local Schools Superintendent Bob Fischer attended the West Alexandria Village Council meeting on Monday, March 19, to discuss school safety and a potential collaboration between the community and district to employ a School Resource Office (SRO).
Fischer explained, he and Police Chief Tony Gasper have had numerous conversations about ways to get the police involved more with the school, especially following the shooting incident which happened in Florida on Feb. 14.
The discussion regarding an SRO has been ongoing since Fischer became superintendent. Since he has taken his position, the school has undergone several safety updates, such as buzzers to enter the building and color coded hallways for first responders to easily navigate.
“Obviously we hope that there will never be a safety issue at school, but we don’t want to be blind and say that it is not going to happen, because you never know when it could. We have talked a lot about different opportunities, whether that is a full-time school resource office, a part-time officer, or maybe even offering office space. There is a lot of different combinations we could look at,” he said.
“I thought a good platform to start with would be meeting with council to see what questions you have about school safety, and then spring boarding into some possibilities that [Gasper and I] have talked about. What questions about school safety or what we are doing at South that you have questions on?”
Councilwoman Holly Robbins said, “I’m glad to hear you’re doing buzzers.”
Fischer explained, buzzers were installed right after he began his position at TVS. He took his experience from being a principal at National Trail Local Schools and noticed any safety weaknesses the school building had, making changes as needed. Every decision was made in collaboration with local law enforcement, and with children’s safety in mind.
They have also added evacuation and lockdown drills to have students practice. The district acts proactively to keep the building up to date with regard to safety.
“So much about safety is not necessarily about how you arm people, but about the atmosphere at school. We continue to work on that as well,” Fischer added.
Councilman Ray Waldeck expressed his “full support” of Fischer’s plans and the idea of having an SRO in the school. However, he would also like to see additional volunteers present to watch over the children, so when the SRO or Police Chief takes a break, the students are still being protected.
“Everything we are talking about does have a cost associated with it, which is a hard decision when you have to decide between cutting out books and hiring a safety officer to potentially save lives. We have talked within our budget, years ago when drug education became a big part of it, there was school and drug free money. As budgets have tightened, those types of grants and budgets have gone away,” Fischer said.
“We are a rural school and have been fortunate to gain funds for rural schools. Depending on the year, it gives us anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000. We have utilized that to do safety improvements, such as security cameras. We went from 20 security cameras to 54. We made a major upgrade this year, the cameras are inside and outside.
“We are making smart choices and we’re looking at different funding possibilities. I know the council has been approached about possibly splitting a halftime SRO. I can tell you, as far as the board perspective, we want to figure out a way to get something in place at South going into next year. Being a halftime or full-time person, we have to look at the costs.”
There are grants available for full-time SROs, but that grant only pays for the salary — the school district will have to cover the benefits, which could cost from $15,000 to $50,000. According to Fischer, the board has been talking for over a year and are interested in doing something.
“One other possibility that Chief Gasper and I have talked about, and I know there can be negatives and positives to this, but I think from an avenue of having somebody in that building more frequently and we as a school district are willing to allow this, we have talked about creating an office space for the Chief in the building. We have a spot where he can do that. There is administrative paperwork he needs to do on a daily basis that he can do while in the school building,” he said.
“We are willing at South as a part, not as a sole solution, to allow him to be in the building and if something does even happen, that will allow him to be in that area instantaneously. We’ve talked about what that would entail, having a locked room and a computer, and we would provide all of that with no charge at all.”
He added, the school is willing to work with West Alexandria to eliminate costs where they can. However, Fischer hopes to have multiple solutions to the problem, and not just one. He wants to add “reinforcement” to the situation, just in case the school even has to deal with an emergency.
“Again, the two avenues we’re looking at right now is the office and at least a part-time SRO, maybe extending that out to a full-time. My question for the council, is where are you with this? Obviously, financial is the question. There are a lot of avenues we can go down, but the financial question is the biggest one. How can we do this as a joint effort? I’ve heard the different comments about why it is West Alexandria’s burden. I can’t make that decision, I can only tell you my opinion about why it is important, ” Fischer said.
Chief Gasper added, “There are grants for the village’s side of the payment if we do decide to do a part-time SRO.”
“The grant would cover salary. We do realize as a school, depending on the length of time we go, there would be an additional fund the school would have to pay. There are other things at the school we are looking to do,” Fischer said. “We’re continuing to look at what we can do.”
Councilman Shannon Smith asked Chief Gasper if occupying an office at the school would be an inconvenience, to which Gasper replied it would not.
As for the part-time SRO position, Fischer said they are looking at 20-24 hours as the current goal, depending on when the officer is needed each day.
Councilwoman Robbins said, “I would be for [the SRO position] if we can cover it with grants.”
Gasper responded, the village would still have to pay 50 percent of their half of the position — a quarter of the overall price. Fischer corrected, that depends on the avenue they decide to take. Fischer believes the school would have enough to cover their portion for next year, if the program is to begin.
Robbins asked if Gasper had applied for the grants, but he responded he would not until he had council’s approval to do so.
“My concern is purely monetary,” Robbins said.
Councilman Jeff Hickey responded, “Regardless, I think we need to figure that out. We don’t want to be sitting here saying that we’ve should have done this.”
“There is a lot of planning that needs to go into this, but whatever we can do as a school to help you and to make sure that this takes place, we will,” Fischer said.
Councilman Doug Crouse requested “hard numbers” on what the village would be expected to pay, which Fischer said either he or Gasper could provide. The council resolved to review the information and crunch numbers, with the intention of “working something out.”
Mayor Carol Lunsford said, “My only comment to our council is, our children are our most precious commodity. Let’s not wait too long.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH