Sheriff Kenny Lemons met with the Henrietta ISD Board of Trustees Thursday night to pitch a plan for improving student safety following the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
With what he called “little steps,” Lemons put forward a plan to add one Clay County Sheriff’s Deputy to his office, dedicated to school security. The program, which he likened to a “glorified DARE program,” would be partially funded by each of the four school districts in the county.
“I’m not proposing we base our program on grants or presidential handouts,” said Lemons, suggesting a “stand-alone” course of action.
Related article: Neighboring district has success with SRO program
Funding, response times and the effectiveness of having a single deputy cover four districts were key issues raised by the HISD board and administrators.
“How is it that one officer could realistically do any good among four districts,” asked Henrietta High School Principal Gary Parrish.
Henrietta, Bellevue, Midway and Petrolia ISD’s are made up of six campuses if Henrietta Elementary and Henrietta High are considered a single campus.
Henrietta ISD addressed a lot of security issues with the design of district buildings with recent construction at all three campuses, said board member Lanny Evans.
The district has emergency plans in place that are revised every three years, and has already conducted drills following the Sandy Hook school shooting.
“But that’s not even a portion of what we do,” said McClure. “It’s not static. It’s not like we develop a plan and then throw it in a box.”
Evans, a former police officer, said that response time is key.
“I see this as a joint effort,” said Evans. “You guys have probably been to active shooter training, but we need some of that too.”
Evans pointed out that Columbine High School had a school resource office on duty in April 1999 when two teenage killed 13 people. The officer was outside when the shooting began, and was not able to reenter the building.
Evans is not opposed to a program in place at Harrold ISD, in which some teachers and staff with concealed carry permits are armed.
“Not to be policemen, but to be first response,” said Evans. “We’ve got to do something internally to strengthen our situation.”
“The volume of training those people would have to undergo would be pretty strenuous,” Lemons responded.
Trustee Mike Campbell asked for the salary package a school resource officer would expect, noting that Texas school funding has been cut by $5.6 billion statewide.
Lemons said that, while it is the job of county commissioners to discuss funding, a full-time deputy costs the county approximately $57,000 per year, including retirement and benefits.
Lemons further avoided making comments about funding the program when Paul Bennett, school board president, pressed for details about how the cost would be divided among the school districts.
“I was hoping to wait on that until we could get a representative from each district in a meeting,” said Lemons.
Board member Danny Kelton asked Lemons about response time for a city deputy to reach the school if the school resource officer was in another district, surmising it to be 5-10 minutes.
The position of school resource officer also would be instructional, said Lemons, offering education on drug abuse and other issues facing students. He cited the Jack County Sheriff’s Office and Burkburnett Police Department as are law enforcement with school resource officers already in place.
It was the second of four school board meetings Lemons will attend. On Monday, he presented the plan to Petrolia ISD, and will meet with the Midway ISD board on Monday, Jan. 21, and Bellevue ISD on Thursday, Jan. 24.