PERRY -- Parents, teachers and Houston County school officials packed City Council chambers Tuesday evening and pressed council not to cut school resource officers and crossing guards from the city’s upcoming budget.
“Y’all have a police officer here in case something goes down,” said parent Joe Boyse. “We’ve got 4,000 kids in schools. Is their safety not that important?”
About 60 residents attended the last public hearing of seven held on the budget to protest City Council’s proposal to shift funding responsibilities of three crossing guards and two school officers to the Houston County Board of Education. The move would save the city about $110,000.
“There’s no one up here that thinks that the safety of our children isn’t important,” said Mayor Jimmy Faircloth after 30 minutes of public comments. “The one question we have is, should the city of Perry pay for what we see as a school board function?”
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The school board and City Council must approve their fiscal 2012 budgets by July 1, when the new fiscal year begins. Perry expects to approve its budget June 21, a day after the school board intends to approve its budget.
But the officials remained divided Tuesday night about who should fund positions related to public safety in the schools.
Currently, the school board pays for the hours that one of the two school resource officers works in the schools. Perry pays for the remainder of that officer’s time -- when he works as a Perry police officer -- and all of the second school resource officer’s salary and benefits, Faircloth said.
The city fully funds the crossing guards’ salaries.
Robin Hines, superintendent of Houston County schools, told council he doesn’t see the problem with the officers since the board already funds the hours worked at Perry High School. And, he said, crossing guards are a city’s responsibility.
“That is a public safety issue and should be taken on by the city of Perry,” Hines told council.
The principals for the city’s primary, middle and high schools all spoke to council, insisting eliminating crossing guards could mean a life.
“We’re going to do our part in the schools, but we need to make sure that they get there safely,” said Linda Horne, assistant superintendent for the school system, laying out a scenario of a student not making it from primary school to graduation because of a major accident.
The principals, teachers and parents said the school resource officers are just as invaluable because they are mentors to the children, provide a sense of security and contribute to directing traffic before and after school.
“The kids are comfortable with him,” Perry High School Principal Darryl Albritton said of the school’s resource officer, explaining students have even provided tips for the officer to solve crimes outside the school. “They know him. They respect him.”
After Hines said school officials were never given a heads up about the shift, Faircloth said the non-communication was not intentional. After the meeting, he said he intends to meet with Hines before the next council meeting.
Faircloth maintained the school positions are not the city’s responsibility to fund. Still, school board Chairman Tom Walmer said the city may be splitting hairs when it comes to the taxpayer.
“It’s not really savings to the taxpayer. It’s just a shift of responsibility,” he told council.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.