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bedford county board of supervisors

Bedford supervisors OK grant for 14 new school resource officers

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Students hop off the school bus for the first day at Big Island Elementary School on Aug. 11, 2021.  

BEDFORD — Bedford County is set to hire for 14 new school resource officer positions following the county board of supervisors’ 6-1 vote Monday to approve a $1 million grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The grant of just more than $1,042,300 would fund SROs for the county’s 13 elementary schools and Susie B. Gibson Science & Technology Center/Alternative Education Center, according to county documents.

Sheriff Mike Miller said the board’s approval is “awesome news for the county, students and citizens” in making all 21 schools as safe as possible. Miller, who helped launch the program 24 years ago as an SRO, said placing an officer in each school has long been a priority he has looked forward to meeting.

“You’re dealing with the world’s most precious commodity and that’s our children,” Miller said.

County Administrator Robert Hiss said the county and Bedford County Public Schools officials have discussed cost-sharing arrangements for funding the new positions. Hiss said BCPS has agreed to pay for 75% of salaries and benefits and the county is picking up the rest along with equipment and vehicles.

Earlier this month, the county school board unanimously moved to support adding the SRO positions.

Supervisor Bob Davis, who voted against approving the grant, expressed concerns with the overall costs for county taxpayers in the long run. He said he finds it “troubling” the grant request came to the board in short notice and the board’s permission was not sought beforehand to apply for the grant.

Davis also questioned why SROs need vehicles for patrolling off school grounds or need to read books to children when their jobs are focused on safety.

“Quite frankly, I find that as pie in the sky,” Davis said. “The need for a police cruiser escapes me.”

Miller said a sheriff’s deputy vehicle at each school is a deterrent for criminal activity and seven vehicles that are older are earmarked to go to the new SROs.

At one point on discussion of the costs, Miller said in response to a comment from Davis: “I will never give you smoke and mirrors. I will give you the truth.”

The grant award period is from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2023, with a local match waived in the first year and a local match of 31% for three additional years at $326,480 per year, according to county documents.

Beyond the four years the grant is approved for, in fiscal year 2027, the positions would be 100% locally funded, if continued, at a cost of just more than $1,042,300. The board’s approval came ahead of an Oct. 17 deadline for accepting or rejecting the grant.

Bedford Schools Superintendent Marc Bergin in a Sept. 9 memo to Hiss wrote the Bedford County School Board and administration are appreciative of the opportunity to further ensure the safety of students, staff and school visitors.

“While we agreed to the need to ensure a security presence in all of the public schools in Bedford County, we do remain open to exploring the more cost efficient School Security Officer [SSO] model,” Bergin wrote.

When asked about SSO officers compared to SROs, Miller said he could guarantee the proper training for the latter in responding to dangerous situations.

Board members discussed the importance of remaining watchful of county spending on the SROs as the program expands to reach all schools.

“I don’t want to take a million dollars on the front end if it’s going to cost $5 million on the back end,” Supervisor Mickey Johnson said.

John Sharp, the board’s chair, said if the county goes down the road of accepting the grant, the 75% commitment from the schools is crucial.

“If we commit to this, they are committing as well, from my perspective,” Sharp said.

Davis said he is concerned with taxpayers paying twice as much for the SRO program than is needed and he supports further exploring the more cost-effective SSO option. He also expressed support for looking to hire retired law enforcement officers or military to serve those roles in a way he said would save Bedford taxpayers money on an annual basis.

“I’m all about the safety of our students in our schools but if it can be done at a much more affordable rate, which I’m convinced it can be, then I think at the very least we need to take a little more pause here and reconsider approving this this evening,” Davis said.

Supervisor Charla Bansley said she is 100% in support of the grant’s boost for the SRO program.

“I, for one, don’t think there is any more valuable resource in our county than our kids in our schools,” Bansley said.

“I, for one, don’t think there is any more valuable resource in our county than our kids in our schools.”

— Charla Bansley, Bedford County supervisor

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