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SROs may be cut from school budget

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Board to review funds in work session tonight

By Damon Lawrence

The county’s budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year could wind up in some peril if the Roane County Board of Education decides to cut out funding for school resource officers.
The cost for the six SROs is shared between the school system and the county with the schools budgeted to contribute $210,000.
The school board asked the county commission to increase the property tax rate by 14 cents to make up for a budget shortfall caused by a drop in state funding.
The commission voted unanimously on July 8 to keep the county’s property tax rate – $2.18 per $100 valuation – the same for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
A 14-cent increase in the property tax rate would have generated $1.582 million for the school system.
Director of Schools Gary Aytes said cuts will have to be made without that revenue. He specifically mentioned the $210,000 for the SROs.
The school board will have to vote on what gets cut.
A work session is scheduled for 6 p.m. today – Monday – at the central office on Bluff Road in Kingston.
The board is scheduled to meet in regular session at the same location on Thursday at 7 p.m.
While the school system contributes to the funding, school resource officers work for the Roane County Sheriff’s Office.
“A SRO is a deputy sheriff,” Roane County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tim Phillips said. “They are sworn, just like every other deputy sheriff that is employed by the Roane County Sheriff’s Office. They are assigned to the schools.”
Budget director Kaley Walker said the county has a few options if the schools decide not to pay its portion for the SROs.
“We would have to figure out whether the general fund could support that cost, whether the sheriff’s department would have to give up those positions, or if there would be some other funding source,” Walker said.
Whether the sheriff’s office would be willing to give up six deputies due to a funding shortage remains to be seen.
Phillips, who is second in command at the sheriff’s office, said he hasn’t thought that far ahead.
“We’re kind of just waiting on the schools to see where they’re going to make their cuts,” he said. “They haven’t alluded to us what kind of cuts they were going to make, whether they were not going to pay their portion of the SROs or what have you.”
Right now, it doesn’t look like there will be another vote on the property tax rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
“I think until the budget gets sent to Nashville and until the tax rate goes to Nashville to print the tax cards, I think anything can be changed,” Walker said late last week.
She plans to send the budget to the state today – Monday.