Carter County Schools receive $52,329 for 2002-2003 Safe Schools program

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   The Carter County School System has received $52,329 from the Safe Schools Act administered by the State of Tennessee and $14,000 from the Title IV Safe and Drug Free Federal Program towards an annual $71,000 payment to the Carter County Sheriff's Department.
   From the sheriff's budget, additional funds are added to provide four School Resource Officers based at the local high schools. In addition to the $4,671 paid from local school funds to the sheriff for RSO's, additional expenditures are made on video and other security equipment.
   The program began with the Safe Schools Act of 1998 and the funding was for one or more of the following purposes:
   * Innovative violence prevention programs
   * Conflict resolution
   * Disruptive or assaultive behavior management
   * Improved school security
   * Peer mediation
   * Employee training concerning school related violence
   Through various discussions between the school system and the sheriff's department, Supt. Williams said it was determined that the School Resource Officers would achieve most of the objectives listed above.
   The Carter County School Department received an initial allocation of $78,167 in the school year 1998-99 with the amount of funding decreasing over time. In the fiscal year 1999-2000, funding was $68,850 and in the year 2000-01, the funding was $41,788. Last year the allocation was decreased to $31,374. "Budget problems on the state level have impacted funding over time, but this year's funding has increased to $52,329. The future of the state funding is uncertain at this time," said Williams.
   The school director noted that over the course of the last five years the perception of school safety has become one of increased violence and fear. "This has not been the result of individual incidents in our schools as much as reported violent acts in other schools. At the same time traditional community figures such as police have become detached from individual contact with students except in an adversarial context," Williams said.
   Currently, the Carter County School System and the Carter County Sheriff's Department maintain a uniformed officer in each of the four high schools. Officers are available for classroom participation and for general public safety activities in the school and in the community. This has met with approval of school administrators, the sheriff's office, parents and students.
   "Our principals report that the resource officers stationed at the high schools have produced positive results. Incidents of theft, fighting, vandalism and tobacco use have decreased," Williams said. Resource officers have made themselves available to speak to classes on subjects such as school safety, drug use, gang activity, and traffic safety regulations.
   The resource officers have also assisted principals in writing school safety plans and developing security plans for after-school activities such as sporting events and graduation ceremonies. "Resource officers have been valuable in controlling campus egress, resulting in a decreased number of problems associated with non-students on campus," the school superintendent reported.
   He concluded by exclaiming that the perception of safety, by both students and faculty, has increased since the resource officers have become a part of the school staff, actual safety has increased, and integration of safety and curriculum has occurred.