The contentious school resource officers funding dispute between the city of Loudon and Loudon County Schools may be nearing a resolution.
After the city followed through Aug. 20 on a warning that it would pull two SROs from Fort Loudoun Middle, Loudon Elementary and Loudon High schools if the Loudon County Board of Education did not provide additional compensation for the positions, the board voted Saturday to provide the $30,000 apiece the city initially requested months ago.
Included in the motion was a stipulation that Director of Schools Jason Vance could work with the Loudon County Sheriff's Office to potentially fund a deputy if the city of Loudon rejected the board's offer.
If the offer was not accepted, Vance said the board would need about $20,000 above what has already been budgeted to provide one SRO from the sheriff's office.
"We're in a position that we didn't foresee, and we certainly didn't budget for it," Vance said. "And just to be honest, it's frustrating as a director of schools for other departments in the county to say you've got more money than you know what to do with. That's absolutely a false statement.
"That's inappropriate," he said. "It's wrong, and it's just where people don't understand because they're not educated about our budget. We've had to cut people in order to make our budget work. I'm not seeing anybody else cut people to make their budget work."
Vance said he was pleased that Loudon Police Department kept its officers in place while the board and city negotiate.
"I want to say no matter what the city does, if they say, 'yes' or if they say, 'no,' they've been awfully good to keep the SROs in at this point and time and help us transition through this period," Vance said. "I know there's been some hard feelings between different entities, but they have been great to keep security provided so we wouldn't lapse in security."
Board member Scott Newman, who was replaced as chairman by Bobby Johnson Jr., recommended the BOE provide the amount previously requested by the city so the officers who already have a rapport with students could remain in place.
"We already have a lot of contacts and relationships built with those boys in the school there," Newman said about the city officers. "I think that we have some new board members here. I think the city kind of got put out by this because they felt like we were dragging our feet. ... There were some comments made by former board members that made everybody mad, and so I would like to think the city would look at us again and say we're willing to work with you if we come up with the money for the extra $30,000 that they asked for initially."
Newman works with the LPD, but not as an SRO.
"I think this motion does two things: we throw our olive branch and say here's the $30,000," Newman said. "If you don't want it, OK, Jason's got the option. He can go to the sheriff's department and we can go about our business, so that's why I think it would be the best thing to do at this time." Board member Simon Craig said steps would need to be taken to assuage any bad feelings between the two boards.
"We need to request a special meeting with them, talk to them up front, and if there's any bad blood, we need to come together on this and make it happen as soon as possible," Craig said. "And if it doesn't, you (Vance) can act quickly because we cannot drag this on, and nothing against anybody, but I'd certainly like to see this happen with the next week."
The board decided to fund the additional $60,000 from its reserve funds as a one-time expenditure rather than pulling from a teacher contingency fund (Fund 116) that is set aside in case the district must hire a new teacher.
"I think perception-wise, it looks better for the school board to take it out of your reserve funds than it does to take it out of 116," Vance said.
Board member Gary Ubben said the board would be smart to leave the teacher contingency money in place.
"We don't know what's going to happen," Ubben said. "We're very early in the school year. You could still end up with a situation where you needed to draw that money to hire another teacher."
The board passed the plan unanimously with the understanding that Vance could negotiate with the sheriff's office on securing a deputy if the city rejected the offer.
In addition to naming Johnson as the new chairman, Leroy Tate was named vice chairman.