BY SARAH GREGORY
Greeneville police officers will continue to provide enhanced, armed security at all Greeneville City Schools, following action Tuesday by the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
A motion passed unanimously to have the current arrangement -- with an armed police officer in each of Greeneville's six schools -- continue through the end of the school year at a cost that should not exceed $73,000 without further approval from the board.
The board also held an extended discussion about long-term security procedures at the schools.
The talks included Greeneville City Schools Director Dr. Linda Stroud, Greeneville Police Chief Terry Cannon, and City Administrator Todd Smith.
The discussion started with comments from Mayor W.T. Daniels, who indicated that, in light of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month, the board wanted parents and students to feel the Town had been pro-active in taking steps to "alleviate anxiety in our community."
Stroud addressed the board and audience with a prepared statement. (Please see related article on Page ????)
Following Stroud's comments, Daniels said: "To me, it's very simple. What it comes down to is we either do or we don't.
"I think that the decision that we made for at least on a temporary basis was well thought out, and I am glad we took the stance to be pro-active and provide this for our school system."
Daniels noted that he has received comments from constituents stating their appreciation for the steps the Town has taken.
He added that some citizens have also said they would be willing to make a donation to help defray the cost of the enhanced security measures.
FOUR FUTURE OPTIONS
The discussion continued with a review prepared by Smith listing four options for more long-term security at the schools.
The City Administrator's options included:
* 1) Hiring four additional police officers to provide one officer in each school-- an option that would not be available until next year because of the time it takes to hire and train officers.
(Prior to the recent decision to place an officer in each school, an officer was already assigned to provide security throughout the school day at Greeneville High School, while a second officer has rotated patrol among Greeneville Middle School and the four elementary schools.)
The hiring of the four additional officers would come with one-time costs of $110,000 for new cruisers, $16,000 for training, and $4,500 for uniforms/equipment. Annual costs with that option would include $129,000 for salaries and $64,000 for benefits.
* 2) Temporarily enhance security at the schools for the remainder of the year. This option could be implemented immediately.
Cost for this option was estimated at $80,000 to cover the cost of officers' overtime for the remainder of the fiscal year.
* 3) A third option was not considered, as it would require a change to state law that would send a select group of volunteer teachers through auxiliary officer training.
* 4) The fourth option would be to implement a directive requiring all on-duty police officers to be "stationed" at a school during school hours when not responding to a call.
STATE HELP ANTICIPATED
Daniels said he had spoken with state Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, who indicated that he will propose some type of measure in the state legislature that would help municipalities fund additional school security measures.
Smith added that there is a lot of discussion around the state and he is confident the state legislature will take some sort of action, but "we just don't know what the state is going to do yet. We probably won't know until April or May."
He added "You have some options before you that kind of anticipate some of the ripples coming from Nashville."
"I also think we could combine some of the options," Alderman Keith Paxton said. "The officers, when they're doing their paperwork, they can do them on the school campuses. That could be a mixture."
"Frankly, we've initiated that already, in practice," Smith responded.
"It's difficult for an officer to be stationed at a school because, frankly, they're constantly on calls.
"That's the crux of the problem: If we continue to station an officer at every school, we're taking away from other areas of the city where there could be potential crime, accidents, or public safety issues."
He added, "any decision we make is an opportunity cost."
"If we think we're the only ones going through this, we're not," Alderman Buddy Hawk said. "Every town in the country is going through these very same things."
"I think we need to ask Chief (Terry) Cannon how much it would cost to continue what we're doing now until the end of the school year," said Alderman Sarah E.T. Webster.
"Then, when we are working on the next budget, we will know what has evolved through the state, we will know what other communities have done, and there may be some innovative ideas that other people have come up with that we could adopt."
POLICE APPLICANTS READY
"That's true," Cannon said.
The police chief noted that he has recently completed interviews with potential new police officers. "My list is arranged where there are four or five people who could go to work immediately, if we had to."
Of those individuals, one is a certified officer and the others are auxiliary officers who would have to complete police academy within six months.
Cannon added that, if the Board decides to avoid the hiring process, the cost to continue the current arrangement with officers will fluctuate in overtime costs.
"If we just assumed it was straight overtime for the rest of the school year, what are we looking at, cost-wise, for us?" asked Administrator Smith.
"I give you the figure of $80,000, but with people taking off here and there, it would probably be in the neighborhood of $70,000 to $73,000," Cannon said.
Alderman Darrell Bryan asked about the possibility of using auxiliary police officers to help cover the need.
Cannon said there were a few auxiliary officers who may be able to help. However, many auxilary officers have day jobs, and state law requires that auxiliary officers work no more than 100 hours per month.
Mayor Daniels noted in the discussion, however, that possible action by the state legislature may lift that requirement to make it easier for towns to provide extra security for schools in a cost-effective way.
"If we can cover what we're doing until the end of the year, some of these things will work themselves out by what other people do and by what the state does," Webster said.
Paxton raised the possibility of a temporary measure allocating up to $40,000 to continue with the current staffing, then revisiting the issue when the budget is set.
NEW DOORS AND LOCKS
Alderman Bryan asked Dr. Stroud if there was any money the school system could allocate for the enhanced security.
Stroud noted that funds that had previously been committed to facility maintenance had been re-prioritized to security upgrades.
"We're recommending significant spending next week at our board meeting," she said.
Stroud noted improvements would include such measures as new doors and different types of locks called "Columbine Locks."
That style of lock would allow teachers to secure their classroom doors from the inside, as opposed to having to go out into the hallway and lock the door with a key as they have to do now.
The specialty locks can cost from $250 to $500 each.
"The school system is committed to put our resources into making decisions about safety within our buildings," she said.
"We need to prepare for a worst-case scenario," Administrator Smith remarked.
After disccussion, Webster made a motion, with a second from Hawk, that the current arrangement be continued through the end of the school year at a cost that should not exceed $73,000 without further approval from the board.
The motion passed unanimously.