Harris County expands school security program. Here’s how other local districts compare.

The Harris County School District is expanding its school security program.

HCSD is adding school resource officers in a partnership with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Each school resource officer is a certified law enforcement officer hired for this duty.

In addition to the school resource officer that has been rotating between Harris County High School and the Performance Learning Center, an officer will cover the campus that comprises Creekside Intermediate School and Mulberry Creek Elementary School. The district’s other schools will have their own SRO: Park, Pine Ridge and New Mountain Hill elementary schools and Harris County Carver Middle School.

The new program is expected to cost $265,000. That’s part of HCSD’s projected security expenses increasing from $171,245 out of last year’s budget of $54,706,348 to $579,726 out of this year’s budget of $59,251,158, according to the figures assistant superintendent for business services and technology Justin Finney gave the Ledger-Enquirer.

“This expanded SRO program has been in the planning stages for some time,” HCSD superintendent Roger Couch said in a news release. “With vision and work by the Harris County Board of Education members and the central office, it is now ready for implementation. The safety of our students, faculty and staff is a constant in our consideration set of priorities. Students can’t learn and teachers can’t teach if they are uncomfortable or distracted.”

Couch added, “As we work to improve our safety program, it is imperative that students and parents learn and listen to school safety protocols for their respective school, or schools, even for things such as picking up or dropping off children. It could make everyone’s lives run a little smoother.”

Here’s how other Columbus area school districts provide security.

Muscogee County

The Muscogee County School District also is upgrading its security program, the Ledger-Enquirer previously reported.

MCSD is establishing its own police agency and will have a full-time armed officer on staff at each high school, transforming the district’s security department from 17 part-time officers to 10 full-time officers and seven part-time officers with three additional positions.

The upgrade adds an estimated $801,720, including $351,720 in start-up costs, to the $2,133,871 MCSD had allotted for security. So the district expects to spend $2,935,591 for security out of its $302.7 million general fund budget in fiscal year 2019, which runs from July 1 through June 30.

Assigning part-time security officers on an as-needed basis will continue at MCSD’s elementary schools and middle schools, but the full-time officers at the high schools could serve nearby middle schools and elementary schools when necessary, according to the plan.

MCSD communications director Mercedes Parham told the L-E in an email Monday, “We are currently focusing on filling the chief of police position as advertised. Once that position is filled, we will proceed with filling the captain and 21 school resource officer positions as specified in the approved plan.

“We are also in the process of procuring equipment necessary for this transition.”

Asked when the SRO position are expected to be filled, Parham said, “It is dependent upon when we fill the chief and captain positions.”

Chattahoochee County

The Chattahoochee County Board of Education established its own police department in the spring of 2017 with one officer. This year, the board approved the hiring of a second officer for the 2018-19 school year. The estimated cost for personnel, vehicle maintenance and equipment is $114,500 out of the school district’s $10.2 million budget, superintendent David McCurry told the Ledger-Enquirer via email Monday.

This will allow ChattCo to have a full-time armed officer at each campus (the middle/high school and the education center): Chief David Bucher and Officer Darrin Williamson. Both have more than 20 years experience in law enforcement and public safety, McCurry said. Bucher also serves as deputy chief of the county’s fire department and deputy director of the county’s emergency management agency. Williamson also serves as a captain in the fire department.

Jim Sims, the school district’s facilities and operations director, said in McCurry’s email: “This partnership helps many throughout our community feel that we as a school district are doing what we can to help our schools be as safe as possible.”

Russell County

Three sworn deputies (two full-time, one part-time) are assigned to the Russell County School District for the 2018-19 school year.

“The deputies assigned to the schools are and have always been armed,” RCSD superintendent Brenda Coley told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email. “However, all deputies assigned to the school district are specifically trained on what circumstances require use of the same and what levels of force are appropriate in each situation.”

New for this school year, Coley said, is the hiring of a full-time safety director for the district. The RCSD safety director, who will supervise the deputies, also is armed as a sworn law enforcement officer and serves as a lieutenant in the Russell County Sheriff’s Office, she said.

“We believe that having a director who understands the educational needs as well as the school safety issues of the district, working cohesively with law enforcement assigned to the district, will provide the best use of our resources and will also provide the best level of safety for our students, parents, faculty and staff,” Coley said.

Coley said she didn’t have budget figures available Monday to explain the district’s security costs.

Information about school security in Phenix City and Lee County wasn’t available by deadline.

This video was written,shot,edited and produced by fifth grade students of Eric Crouch at Double Churches Elementary School in Columbus, GA.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE