LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) will begin hiring and training armed officers for the school district.
The Board of Education voted to implement the updated school safety plan in a special meeting Thursday. The vote was unanimous, though board member Linda Duncan said the plan isn't enough. She said, "Officers need to be steps away from a violent threat, not blocks away."
The proposal now creates two new positions: safety administrators and school safety officers.
Every middle and high school will have at least one, sometimes two, safety administrators. Each elementary assistant superintendent will have two safety administrators assigned as well. They are there to help build relationships with students and assist with safety procedures.
School safety officers will patrol three to seven schools in a geographical area. Alternative schools will each have their own SSO. The officers will not be housed in a specific school, and they will undergo annual training developed by the district in addition to state training (approximately 60 hours annually).
Friday, JCPS officials said they had not yet decided which schools would be in each geographical cluster.
They said they would be continuing to talk with existing security personnel, principals and parents in making the decision. Board member James Craig expects the district will have to be flexible.
“If we find ourselves in a situation where an officer can’t respond within 20 or 30 minutes, we certainly wouldn’t want that and I suspect the board would reevaluate," he said Friday.
Craig said officers would primarily work out of their cars, driving between schools in their cluster to check in and constantly communicate with safety administrators.
“That officer needs to be steps away to have an impact or deter a violent situation," board member Linda Duncan said Friday. “How can officers build relationships other than the time they are there during emergency situations?”
Safety administrators will make $74,514 annually and school safety officers would make $55,211.
The 15 additional SSOs and salary increases for 15 other current staff members to take on the job will cost $1.3 million.
On Feb. 1, Superintendent Pollio told WHAS 11 he's already hearing some "anecdotal interest" from current JCPS employees. Dr. Pollio says, theoretically, any JCPS employee could throw their hat in the ring to be a school safety officer -- as long as they'd be willing to get the proper law enforcement training. His hope is that it allows JCPS to choose those who have the heart for the job.
"They could be current law enforcement, they could be retired law enforcement," Dr. Pollio said.
The 66 new Safety Administrators will cost $5.2 million. Additional costs including cars, uniforms, equipment, training and insures will total $763,000. The entire plan will cost an additional $7.2 million for the district.
The Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) supported the plan. Vice President Tammy Berlin told WHAS11 News, "We are supportive of the fact that those are district employees and that they can be accountable to the district." She also pointed to the 60 required hours of annual training for each new position.
Metro Council President David James said Friday the plan is a step in the right direction, but questioned if it goes far enough.
“Do I think it's perfect? Not by any means, I think it’s best to have SRO’s in schools," he said. “Without that, then we’re depending on someone from outside the school, who knows nothing about what’s going on inside the school to respond after the fact to something that has taken place.”
James said the ideal plan would be SRO's in every school combined with restorative justice policies. He expressed congratulations to Dr. Pollio for taking a major step forward.
Pollio said even if the district approved a plan to put officers in every school, available staffing would make that impossible.
“If we adopt a policy that positions an armed officer at every single JCPS facility that provides instruction to students, we’re setting ourselves up for failure at the outset," Craig added Friday.
James said with current law enforcement shortages throughout Louisville and the country, JCPS would have to pay competitively to make the job attractive. School board members said they believe they'll fill the 15 open positions.
As for the 15 armed, sworn-in officers set to be hired in-house, Teamsters Local 783 -- a union representing dozens of current security monitors -- says a handful of their workers want to make the move too, which for them would also include a pay increase.
"I had a phone call today from one of them, they were interested and wanted to know what the procedures are -- thinking they'd be a good fit," said union president John Stovall. "They know the system, they know the kids, and they know the school district. They're level headed, and it's going to take someone level headed to do that job."
Meanwhile, current JCPS security monitor Horace Jones believes this new move is much needed, and he intends to apply for an SSO position. He's one of at least 20 JCPS security guards who cover and patrol multiple assigned areas and schools across the district. He's also a former police officer himself. He says this job would be just as much about mentorship as it is about protection.
"Provide the support that our students and staff need," Jones said. "Talking to children, letting them know we're here for anything. We're all on board. I know it'll work."
A JCPS spokesperson says these jobs haven't officially been posted yet. He expects that to happen by the end of February.
Superintendent Marty Pollio called the issue of armed officers in schools "one of the most divisive" in the district. In October of last year, calls to keep armed officers out of schools ended a board meeting early.
Board members took issue with details of the early plan and held several committee meetings to adjust the policies and procedures leading. One key change was to assign safety administrators to elementary schools assistant superintendents.
JCPS officials intend to have the school clusters decided by the beginning of the next school year. The board plans to further discuss the safety plan in the spring.