From a threat to Sharp, arming teachers and two SRO’s, school safety was the top story
Thirty-one breaking news dotted the headlines throughout the 2018 year and were considered as the top breaking news item. Many had to be covered throughout the year with follow-ups and when the next shoe dropped in the story. For Pendleton County, the process that led to hiring of two school resource officers was the top breaking news story for 2018.
The safety of students had been a concern throughout the nation as the number of school shootings continue to mount. After the Parkland, Florida shooting occurred in February, and students from that school became a national voice, the issue ramped up even more.
It came home to roost when a former Pendleton County student attending Campbell County Middle School went to social media and offered a threat at Sharp Middle School. Working with Campbell County, Sheriff Craig Peoples and SRO Jared Brewer responded quickly and the students were never facing an immediate direct danger.
The threat spurred retiring Superintendent Dr. Anthony Strong to find funds and with the cooperation of the Pendleton County Sheriff’s Office provide a second School Resource Officer for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year.
“We want our parents and community to know that we are hearing the concerns about student safety,” said Dr. Strong.
A little later in the school year, the Pendleton County Board of Education listening to a presentation on arming staff at an April board meeting. There were numerous ideas discussed and mentioned during the evening. While they never acted on the potential of arming staff, they did enact several safety measures over the summer. The most notable was working with the Pendleton County Sheriff’s Office and Pendleton County Fiscal Court to fund two school resource officers for the 2018-19 school year. That one-year memo of understanding will be up for evaluation and possible continuation in the summer of 2019.
When the two SRO’s were first announced in March, Sharp Principal David Sledd told the Falmouth Outlook, “I am very pleased to have the presence of additional police officers in our building. It would be ideal to have a SRO in every school building and this is a terrific step in the right direction.....(it) provides more comfort and security for our students.”
While it seemed obvious that added law enforcement presence would boost safety for students and staff at the county’s schools, it did not pass without apprehension.
The Pendleton County Board of Education approved the memo but the Pendleton County Fiscal Court tabled the agreement when it was first presented to them.
With the agreement authored by Sheriff Craig Peoples and new Superintendent Joe Buerkley, Judge Executive David Fields indicated that he did not have adequate time to look at and discuss the memo.
“SRO is an important part and we need to work together as best we can,” said Judge Fields at that time. “I have talked with Joe Buerkley and Karen Delaney (school board member) and I think we can work it out.”
Magistrates Alan Whaley and Bobby Fogle worked with Sheriff Peoples and Superintendent Buerkley to address some concerns that fiscal court had with the memo.
Much of the issues were addressed at a 2-hour fiscal court caucus meeting were tempers between members of the sheriff’s office and magistrates teetered on boiling over.
The biggest contention was the salary that would be paid to a retired law enforcement officer to serve as the SRO for only 180 days including the 172 days school is in session.
Fogle pointed out that it was more “than teachers make” while Magistrate Rick Mineer was concerned that it was more than some of the county deputy sheriffs made.
With a small pool of potential candidates to draw from, Sheriff Peoples stood firm in the figure that was in the memo.
Eventually, the two sides would compromise to $38,000.
The second issue that was a sticking point was who would be able to use the SRO.
Magistrates were firm in their belief that they were funding a SRO to stay on school grounds and not be called away to cover police issues.
During the meeting, Peoples flatly stated, “You cannot lock me into 100 percent. If something major happened, I need all hands on deck.”
With the memo indicated that the two positions are hired by and through the Pendleton County Sheriff’s Office, it became heated on what their responsibilities would be.
Fogle firmly pointed out that the person would be hired as SRO while Peoples, who was retiring as sherff, was saying they have to be hired as a Deputy Sheriff assigned to the SRO duties.
Deputy Sheriff Todd Dennie, who was the count’s first SRO, pleaded, “Don’t lock us into 100 percent. Wish you could trust us on this.”
Finally, a 95 percent wording was reluctantly agreed along with use of a car and the $38,000 salary.
The board of education easily agreed upon the changes.
Shortly thereafter, retired Kentucky State Police trooper, David Jones, was hired as a second SRO.
Deputy Sheriff Jared Brewer had been serving as SRO and was running as Lead Detective for Dennie in his bid for Sheriff. The second position to be filled by a retired law enforcement agent per the memo of understanding was never filled.
With Eddie Quinn’s election to the sheriff’s position, that responsibility falls on him.
“My goal is to quickly get the second retired officer into a SRO position,” said Quinn who will take office on January 3 and indicated he has talked with Buerkley about the SRO and school safety issue.
With Judge Fields and Mineer expressing that the school needs to take law enforcement as their arm, the issue will surely be another breaking news story during the summer of 2019 leading up to the 2019-20 school year.
School safety continues to be a top priority for Pendleton County Schools. The recent emphasis placed on school safety has seen the number of SRO’s across the commonwealth increase from around 170 last year to near 400 this year. Collaborative efforts between different agencies exist from one end of the state to the other with the goal of keeping our children safe,” said Buerkley.
“Pendleton County is no different as the fiscal court, sheriff’s office, and school district collaborate to continue this program for the 18-19 school year. Superintendent Joe Buerkley stated, “The School Resource Officer program is extremely valued in our school system. It’s benefits to our students and staff are far greater than many would ever know. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with our local fiscal court and sheriff’s office to continue this program for the 18-19 school year and hopefully into the future,” he added.