The Richmond County School System could soon hire two additional school safety officers to patrol the district’s 36 elementary schools as a way to enhance security and deter intruders.
The move was approved by the Richmond County Board of Education’s finance committee at its monthly meeting Tuesday but must go before the full board Thursday to go into effect.
Currently, every middle and high school has one full-time armed officer on campus, while four zone sergeants periodically patrol the elementary campuses, according to Capt. Theodore Brown, the interim director of the School Safety and Security Department. Two more hires would mean six officers, armed with Glock .40-caliber weapons, would visit the 36 elementary schools throughout the day.
“We’ve got to beef up security everywhere,” board member Frank Dolan said after the meeting. “I do not want to be famous. I do not want Augusta, Ga., on The New York Times getting blasted because we didn’t do everything in our power to prevent something.”
Deputy Superintendent Tim Spivey said the idea to hire more security was in the works months before an intruder entered a Connecticut elementary school in December and shot 20 first-graders and six staff members to death – not a knee-jerk reaction to the incident.
In November, however, school officials said they did not have immediate plans to fill two officer vacancies on the 36-member staff, a team that was already five officers smaller than in 2009, when vacancies from retirements and transfers were not filled.
Spivey said Tuesday the salaries for two new officers would be paid for using the $73,785 made free when the department’s lieutenant, Richard Roundtree, was elected as Richmond County sheriff in November.
The board voted to leave the lieutenant position vacant while Brown acts as the interim director in place of Patrick Clayton, who served as the department’s chief before joining the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office as Roundtree’s chief deputy in January.
Board member Jack Padgett said he supported enhancing security for the schools but wondered how much good six officers could do on 36 campuses.
He said he had hoped to use the money freed up by Roundtree’s resignation to cover shortages already in this year’s budget.
“Unless you have an officer at a school constantly, what’s done?” Padgett asked. “If you’re just responding to what’s happening, it’s already too late.”
Board President Venus Cain acknowledged there would be some schools left unpatrolled at certain times but said any enhancement would help.
“I’d rather go bankrupt and make sure we’re safe than not go bankrupt and have something happen,” Cain said.
Dolan said he and other officials are working on a proposal to present to the board next month about hiring a consultant to evaluate the school buildings and offer suggestions for what can be done to prevent a mass shooting.
He said he’d like to see bullet-proof doors, walls and an access system for all schools that would require all visitors to be buzzed in to enter.
“We want to make these schools as safe as we can possibly make them,” said Dolan, adding he’d like to use money left over from phase III of the special purpose local option sales tax to cover the costs. “It’s awfully unfortunate where we find ourselves. But it’s what we have to do.”
Principals at some schools are also revising site safety plans to make their campus more secure and prevent tragedies.
Monte Sano Elementary School Principal Kathryn Perrin said she instructs teachers to keep their classroom doors locked at all times. She also recently told teachers they are never allowed to have a pupil answer a knock at the door, even if they know it is the principal on the other side.
When a pupil brought to school a toy water gun he received as a gift, she wrote a letter to parents reminding them of the rules and of the sensitive environment students are learning in today.
“We live in challenging times, and things are just so different than they were a long time ago,” Perrin said. “We have to be more vigilant now and more mindful. We have to do everything we possibly can do to add to the safety of the children.”