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Courtland Elementary to gain school resource officer

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Spotsylvania County this week rejected a state grant that would have helped pay for unarmed security guards at two elementary schools.

But the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday did vote to accept state funding for an armed Sheriff’s Office deputy at Courtland Elementary, which has among the highest number of student suspensions in the county. That will make Courtland the first elementary school in Spotsylvania with its own school resource officer.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Greg Cebula called the proposed unarmed security guards—who would’ve reported to the school division, not the Sheriff’s Office—“glorified hall monitors.” Spotsylvania currently has two security guards at every high school, but none at elementary or middle schools.

“Without that person being armed, they provide no security whatsoever in the school other than being there and signing somebody in and out of the doors,” Cebula said. “To me, that’s a total waste of taxpayer money.”

Shortly after that statement, the supervisors voted 5–2 to reject grant money for security guards at Lee Hill and Spotswood elementary schools. Supervisors Gary Skinner and Paul Trampe cast the dissenting votes.

At the request of the School Board and the Sheriff’s Office, supervisors in December approved grant applications to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services for nine elementary school security officers and two elementary school resource officers. Supervisors were assured at the time that applying for the grants did not mean they had to accept them.

The state earmarked the money in response to the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults.

Spotsylvania learned in May that the state had approved the grant applications for all nine security guards and a school resource officer at Courtland Elementary. But the School Board asked the supervisors to accept grants for just two of the security guards, in addition to the resource officer.

School officials said they wanted to place the security guards at Lee Hill and Spotswood elementary schools because of a variety of factors, including the number of visitors at those locations and their distance from schools with a police presence.

Trampe, who supported the request, said he thought the school division was being “extraordinarily prudent budget-wise” by asking for just two security guards.

The state grants last up to four years.

The total cost of two elementary school security guards would’ve been $351,478 over that time period, according to county officials. The grant money would’ve covered up to $102,780, or about 29 percent of the four-year cost.

Responsibilities of school security guards include patrolling school grounds and dealing with conflicts among students, said John Lynn, Spotsylvania’s supervisor of school safety. Schools Superintendent Scott Baker said the positions aren’t intended to be a silver-bullet solution to safety issues.

“At a time when we expect a great deal out of all of our employees any additional support that we can provide that enables us to have additional sets of eyes and ears we believe puts us in a better position to be more proactive versus reactive,” Baker told the supervisors.

Skinner, who supported the request for the security guards, said, “I don’t think it’s a waste because I don’t think you can put a price on a child’s life.”

Supervisor Chris Yakabouski took exception to Skinner’s comment. The security guards are hall monitors, he said, not uniformed police.

“Let’s not raise it to the level of this is what we need to protect our students in schools because if it was we should have 17 of these in every elementary school,” Yakabouski said.

Currently, none of Spotsylvania’s 17 elementary schools have resource officers or security guards.

The school system does have armed resource officers—sworn deputies who report to the Sheriff’s Office—at all high schools and middle schools.

Sheriff Roger Harris said he’d like to have resource officers at every school.

The resource officer that was approved for Courtland Elementary will cost a total of $86,273 for the fiscal year that began July 1. The grant will cover $33,370 of that amount, which includes the cost of equipping and training the deputy.

The Sheriff’s Office says it receives a higher-than-average number of service calls from Courtland, which is off busy Smith Station Road.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402