by nathan oster
Nearly a decade after it came up for the first time, members of the Greybull Town Council and the Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees have agreed to revisit the idea of hiring a school resource officer.
The two governing bodies voiced varying levels of support for the position during their meetings in the last 10 days — the school board on May 8, the town council Monday night. But unlike 2009, when the request was primarily being driven by the Greybull Police Department, this time it’s the school district making the push for it.
Scott McBride, the district’s curriculum and grants coordinator, said a recent survey of the district’s student, staff, parents and community members showed support for the hiring of an SRO.
Greybull’s is the only school district in the county that doesn’t have one.
Two-hundred-twenty people responded to the survey, with more than half being students.
Respondents were asked, on a scale of one to five, if they felt safe at school. Seventy-four percent said they did, by marking either a four or a five.
Eighty two percent said they’d support having an SRO present in the schools.
Seventy-seven percent said an SRO would add to a positive climate in the district.
Seventy-six percent said they’d feel safer with an SRO in their school.
Seventy-three percent felt money spent on the SRO would be “well spent” for the district.
The opinions weren’t as clear cut on the arming of school staff.
Staff members were asked if they would be willing to carry a gun. Twenty-seven percent said “no,” 12 percent said “yes” and 59 percent stated that the question didn’t apply to them.
Among parents and students, 52 percent felt it necessary for some staff to be armed and 48 percent said no.
By a margin of 56 to 42 percent, respondents did not feel the arming of some staff members to be a warranted expense for the district.
School board members agreed that as a starting point, they needed to be on record as supporting the position. They agreed to do so as a way of moving the conversation to the town for its input, as the town would need to take the lead in the pursuit of grant money. Trustee Ted Menke voted in the dissent.
Trustees were emphatic that the school district has a say in who is hired to be the SRO.
“If we’re going to do this, I say we need to pick the person,” said Menke. “The two (SROs) who came to talk to us both said it’s critical that we find the right fit.”
Chairman Eddie Johnson noted that the SROs who spoke with the board offered to assist in the interviews.
Police Chief Bill Brenner made the presentation to the council on Monday night.
He reminded them that in 2009, he’d obtained $200,000 in grant money to pay for a SRO who would split time between the district and the town. The town council supported it at the time, but members of the school board rejected it soundly. He had no choice but to give the money back.
Brenner said he was approached first by Supt. Barry Bryant, then soon after his resignation by McBride, to begin the process of drawing up an MOU, which would spell out the agreement on costs, oversight, etc.
According to Brenner, the SRO would spend nine months of the year in the schools, the summer months with the GPD. The GPD currently has five full-time officers. With an SRO available in the summer, it would be easier for officers to get away for vacations in the summer months. It might also cut down on overtime, he said.
Brenner said the grant he pursued in 2009 is still available, but that it still would need to be renewed every three years.
He and Administrator Paul Thur estimated the cost of an SRO at between $53,000 and $61,000 annually. Because the person would spend three-quarters of the year in the schools, the district would be on the hook for approximately three-quarters of that cost.
Brenner said equipment needs, should a SRO be hired, would be minimal.
Mayor Myles Foley said the tricky part is finding the right person for the job, noting that whoever it is would need to get along well with the kids, be personable and have great communication skills.
Councilman Clay Collingwood wondered who the SRO would answer to and Foley said he sees a potential for conflict with the person having essentially two different bosses, in the police chief/town and school administrators.
“Those are things that would need to be spelled out in the MOU,” said Thur.
Councilman Marvin Hunt admitted that he’s “torn” on the SRO request. “I’m not sold on it, personally,” he said, adding that the responses on the survey don’t add up to him.
Foley said he feels “it’s worth looking into.”
Collingwood agreed, saying, “I don’t support it, but I’m willing to listen.”
Kent Richins, the town attorney, said one of the biggest questions in his mind is who would be liable if there’s a problem — the town or the school district. That, too, would need to be addressed in the MOU, he said.
Brenner was asked if the push for an SRO stemmed from the recent school shootings.
He said he believes it to be true.
“Something about this one (in Florida) panicked everyone.”