'Our No. 1 priority’: Ky. county approves $480K for more officers in schools

County officials said they were moved to act after the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas

By Bill Estep
Lexington Herald-Leader

MORGAN COUNTY, Ky. — In the wake of the murders of 19 children and two teachers at a Texas school, officials in an Eastern Kentucky county have approved spending $480,000 to boost safety at local schools.

The Morgan County Fiscal Court approved the payment to the county school system last Friday, according to Judge-Executive John Will Stacy.

Fiscal courts in Kentucky don’t typically provide money for school police.

Stacy said he felt the county needed to help hire school resource officers after the May 24 shootings in Uvalde, Texas.

“It’s not the only answer, but it’s doing something. We’re gonna do what we can do,” said Stacy. “We can’t sit here anymore and expect somebody from Washington to come and protect our children.”

The rural county of about 13,000 has a high school and a middle school on one campus and four elementary schools at separate campuses.

Stacy said he understood the cost of a school resource officer is about $40,000, so the money from the fiscal court would be enough to hire two officers at each school.

The school system has had only one officer each at the high and middle schools, and none at the elementary schools.

State lawmakers approved a measure this year, House Bill 63, requiring school districts to have at least one resource officer in place for each campus beginning in August.

A survey released last August by the state school security marshal found that only 42.9% of the schools in Kentucky had an assigned school resource officer in the 2020-21 school year.

The law approved this year did not provide specific funding for the officers. If districts can’t afford a resource officer at each campus, the law requires them to work with the state school security marshal to come up with a plan to meet the mandate.

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Ralph Hamilton, schools superintendent in Morgan County, said the district would not have had enough money to place a resource officer at each school by August and would have sought a waiver.

Hamilton said the district might not be able to find enough qualified officers to put two at each school even with the county’s allocation.

The district will try to use the money as the fiscal court wanted, but the best case may be to place one officer at each school, he said.

If that turns out to be be the case, the school district will check whether the fiscal court would be agreeable to using some of the money for other security measures, Hamilton said.

“The district’s grateful for the opportunity,” Hamilton said.

The fiscal court approved the payment out of the county’s general fund. The fund included federal aid the county received to replace revenue lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The money is for one year only, but Stacy said he hoped the fiscal court would continue the appropriation in coming years, and that the vote might set an example for other communities.

The county could have spent the money on other programs or infrastructure, but nothing is more important than keeping children safe, Stacy said.

“We’re just reallocating our resources to protect our No. 1 priority,” Stacy said.

©2022 Lexington Herald-Leader. Visit kentucky.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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