By Joe Beck
Shenandoah County Administrator Douglas Walker wants the School Board to join the debate over the future of school resource officers in Strasburg before the county takes up the matter.
Walker replied by letter Monday to Strasburg Police Chief Tim Sutherly's proposal that his department take responsibility for providing school resource officers at all three schools within the town limits. The town currently staffs the high school while the Sheriff's Office covers Signal Knob Middle and Sandy Hook Elementary schools.
Sutherly sent a letter to Walker last week. Before Walker sent his reply, Sheriff Timothy C. Carter denounced Sutherly's proposal as a more costly alternative to the current deployment of school resource officers in Strasburg. Carter said the proposal also raised questions about jurisdictional authority and legal issues among police agencies.
Sutherly's proposal received a much more favorable reception from the Strasburg Town Council on Monday night. He sought council members' support for another letter that would ask for what he called an "audience" with county officials aimed at obtaining advice on drafting a formal proposal.
In an interview Tuesday, Walker said he preferred the School Board study the use of school resource officers throughout the county before the county decides which police agencies should receive money for those positions.
Walker said the School Board should "define the (school resource officer) program and the outcome and the personnel needed to meet those goals and outcome. That sets up a good conversation with the Board of Supervisors about how best to pay for it."
Under Sutherly's proposal, the county would pay 75-80 percent of the cost for three school resource officers, one at each of the Strasburg schools. The town currently pays only for the officer at the high school.
Sutherly also proposes having the town pay for uniforms, equipment, training transportation and other in-kind services. The two school resource officers currently paid for by the county would then be available for other duties in the Sheriff's Office, according to Sutherly.
Carter has submitted his own proposal to the Board of Supervisors for the hiring of four new school resource officers who would be available for assignments throughout the county, including Strasburg. He has offered to pay for the new positions from Sheriff's Office forfeiture funds in the first year. In subsequent years, Carter contends he can staff schools with deputies for about $1,100 less for each position than Sutherly is proposing.
Walker said he expects the Board of Supervisors to consider Carter's proposal as part of its budget deliberations in early April. The School Board would have to complete any study of the school resource officer program in the next month or so to give Sutherly's proposal a chance to receive county money in the 2013-2014 school year.
The Strasburg Town Council left little doubt Monday of its support for Sutherly's proposal.
Councilman Don Le Vine called a Strasburg takeover of school security a "great idea," adding, "At the appropriate time, I would support a letter" to the county.
Other council members praised the principle of local control over the schools, an argument Sutherly also has cited as an advantage to his proposal.
"In this area, local control makes so much sense for our kids," Councilman Scott Terndrup said.
Councilman Rich Orndorff Jr. praised Sutherly for what he called "forward thinking in light of everything that's happened" since a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school sparked a nationwide discussion on school security.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org