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Report: Kentucky school districts that are meeting expectations, needing improvement in hiring SRO's

As several Kentucky school districts make progress in adding school resource officers, JCPS struggles with staffing its own armed security.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In 2019, Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, signed Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), titled the School Safety and Resiliency Act.

Since then, Beshear announced, the number of full-time school resource officers (SRO’s) has increased across the state by 66%, and one assigned to a school campus is up 33% since the beginning of last school year.

“When I started, we had 150 SRO officers, so we’re up now to 683,” Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, told legislators at the Aug. 1 meeting of the Task Force on School and Campus Security.

The total number of SRO’s statewide was recently updated to 685 upon release of the latest school risk assessment, the 2022-23 annual report.

By state law, every school or shared school campus must have at least one SRO, and House Bill 63 (HB 63) required those security guards to be armed.

“About 51% of campuses have SRO’s,” Sen. Max Wise, R-District 16, who authored SB 1, said.  “We’ve seen a lot of local communities scrape to be able to get a position that’s there.”

FOCUS kept a tally of the number of SRO’s each of the 19 districts in the WHAS11 viewing area has heading into the new school year.

Eleven school districts started the 2023-24 school year with the same number of SRO’s they had in the previous school year.

Eight districts have done better, increasing their forces.

  • Bullitt County Schools added an SRO for a total of nine
  • Oldham County Schools hired another SRO to get to 11
  • Spencer County Schools when from two half-time SRO’s to three full-time SRO’s
  • Henry County Schools added a second SRO
  • Washington County Schools added a second SRO
  • Shelby County Schools recently added three, doubling its SRO force to six
  • Carroll County Schools added another SRO for a total four, who now cover all four of the district’s schools
  • Hardin County Schools added seven for a total of 25

The additions have made Carroll County Schools and Hardin County Schools the 5th and 6th districts in WHAS11's viewing area to have fully armed school security coverage.

However, the state’s largest school district, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), is not only struggling to add armed security, JCPS has actually started the new school year with less than it had last year.

JCPS had 17 sworn officers last school year; now it's down to 13.

JCPS said its new executive administrator is also a sworn officer, but his start date is currently unclear. He will also act as the chief of the JCPS Police Department.

Of the 13 current sworn officers, 10 are sworn officers assigned as safety officers and investigators, responsible for investigating crimes at schools, staff assignments and oversight.

JCPS’s version of an armed SRO is an SSO, or a school safety officer.

The original plan had each SSO patrol three to seven schools, with a district goal of eventually getting to a total of 30 SSO’s.

There are currently only three SSO’s on patrol in a district of 165 schools.

According to Carolyn Callahan, the chief communications officer at JCPS, five new SSO’s are in the pipeline, although adding them will take some time since they are not sworn officers and they will have to go through the police academy first.

Four of the five are expected to graduate from the academy before the end of the calendar year, while the fifth is set to enter the academy in November and then graduate in April.

JCPS created the position of district security monitors (DSM’s) and hired 15 of them, according to Callahan.

They are unarmed, but they are there, Callahan said, to provide “support while schools wait for a response from MetroSafe for crimes and emergencies.”

School safety administrators are also unarmed, and Callahan said the district is expected to hire two more to fill a total of 69 positions.

Wise has been critical of JCPS and its presence of armed security.

“I just think many times we get frustrated as legislators when we pass laws, and we don’t see school districts following the laws that we’ve passed,” he said.

He added that JCPS should have “a larger applicant pool that they could go to,” which “most other counties would love to have a pool of applicants like they have.”

Callahan pointed out the district has interviewed close to 100 people for SSO positions, saying “the law enforcement staffing shortage has impacted all agencies looking for sworn officers.”

“To be interviewed, candidates have to go through a rigorous screening process and pass a physical fitness assessment, making these hires time consuming,” Callahan said.

The State School Security Marshal, Ben Wilcox, acknowledged at the task force meeting that there are workforce challenges to hire more SRO’s.

He told lawmakers that the state average salary for an SRO is about $38,000, and that $25 million in state funding would help districts hire more SRO’s.

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