Each high school in the Muscogee County School District will have a full-time armed security guard on staff, starting next school year, if the school board approves the administration’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget when it votes on the spending plan in June.
The recommended upgrade would add an estimated $801,720, including $351,720 in start-up costs, to the $2,133,871 MCSD currently allots for security, according to MCSD security director Scott Thomann, who presented the proposal during the Muscogee County School Board’s monthly work session Monday evening.
The increased expense would pay for boosting MCSD’s security staff from 17 part-time officers to 10 full-time officers and seven part-time officers with three additional positions.
If the board authorizes the administration to do so, MCSD will apply to become a limited jurisdiction police agency, Thomann said, just like the departments serving Columbus State University and Columbus Technical College.
“This is not a theory; this is something I have worked on for seven years,” he said.
But the administration made it an urgent priority in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
MCSD uses part-time officers who are off duty from local law enforcement agencies to provide security for schools. Thomann won’t publicly release where MCSD assigns those officers, although he did share that information during last month’s work session with school board members, who were asked to keep it confidential.
“We move assets around where we perceive a threat today that wasn’t there yesterday,” Thomann said then. “… At any given time at any given moment on any given day, there could be a police officer at any school in this district.”
If this recommendation is implemented, assigning part-time security officers on an as-needed basis will continue at MCSD’s elementary schools and middle schools, but the high schools would have a full-time security officer as a member of their staff. Those full-time security officers also could serve nearby middle schools and elementary schools, according to the proposal.
“Many times, our students never have a positive interaction with a police officer,” Thomann told the board Monday. “Those positive interactions start when those resource officers on a daily basis are having an interaction with those students.”
Positive connections can produce vital information that could prevent a tragic event.
“That resource officer starts to make friends and starts to make contacts and starts to generate information from those students,” he said.
And those relationships can start even before the students enter high school if the full-time officer on staff at the high school also serves the feeder schools on the elementary and middle levels, Thomann said. He called it a “return on the investment in those officers.” They could become part of the educational process, he said, “part of that family.”
Superintendent David Lewis agreed. Having the same officer at the same school each day helps develop more effective relationships for safety, he said.
Thomann, however, offered this observation of caution: Although every school resource officer is a certified law enforcement officer, not every certified law enforcement officer is cut out to be a school resource officer.
“I think that’s very important,” he said.
The Columbus Police Department and Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office still would handle serious crimes on MCSD property, but this recommendation would improve the school district’s ability to prevent and respond to security problems, Thomann said. Becoming a certified law enforcement agency also would allow MCSD officers to receive free training from the state, he said.
Thomann presented the board four options:
▪ Plan A: current staffing, with 17 part-time officers, costing $2,133,871
▪ Plan B: 22 part-time officers, costing an estimated $2,409,993.
▪ Plan C: the recommended option, with 10 full-time officers, seven part-time officers, plus three additional positions, costing an estimated $2,935,591.
▪ Plan D: 21 full-time officers, one part-time officer, plus five additional positions, costing an estimated $3,826,337.
District 8 representative Frank Myers told Thomann, “I like the work; I just don’t think D is enough. I wish there was an E or an F or a G. Respectfully, I understand you put a lot of work into this.”
Myers balked at the administration proposing to have a full-time officer on staff at only the high schools.
“I think we’ve lost focus about what the threat is out there,” Myers said. “… The threat to me is that idiot who comes in with a gun. It just upsets me to even think about how that would happen. I’m trying to figure out who are we to play God and not make sure there’s somebody at every school to stop that threat.”
Superintendent David Lewis replied that option C is the recommendation based on “Mr. Thomann’s expertise as well as other like experts.”
In response to a question from District 2 representative John Thomas, Thomann said he doesn’t expect hiring full-time officers to be difficult.
“Not everybody wants to be a police officer that works nights and weekends and holidays,” Thomann said. “… A lot of police officers want to work with kids.”
Also during last month’s work session, Thomann called for metal detectors at each school. Metal detectors aren’t part of this recommendation. Lewis explained why in an email Thursday to the Ledger-Enquirer.
“The use of magnetometers (metal detectors), as well as other technologies, along with the proposal presented at this week’s work session, are currently being reviewed and evaluated for efficiency and effectiveness,” the superintendent wrote.