Local schools use state funding for safety precautions

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

Carter County and Elizabethton City Schools receive thousands in state grants for safety each year. The funding is part of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program designed to enhance safety in Tennessee's schools.
   The grants come from $5.6 million the General Assembly appropriated for the Safe Schools Program earlier this year, and the amount varies according to school system.
   Last week, Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) announced the exact dollar amount local schools will receive in Safe Schools grant money. Carter County schools will receive $52,329 for the fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2002 through June 30, 2003. The grant requires the school system to put up a $8,762 match.
   "I'm delighted to see the Carter County school systems receiving these enhancement funds to increase safety for our school children," Crowe said.
   The school system has been receiving funding since the General Assembly initiated the Safe Schools Act of 1998. The legislation was adopted with the goal of ridding public schools of violence by coordinating federal, state and local efforts.
   According to the U.S. Department of Education, activities and programs supported by the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program are mainly for prevention. The program provides funding for states to help support local schools and programs in their efforts to prevent drug use and violence in the educational setting.
   The grant money was taken into account in the 2002-2003 budget for Carter County Schools even though the exact amount was not known at the time the budget was adopted. Carter County Schools Finance Director, Jerome Kitchens, said he looked at past years to calculate what the system would be receiving this year.
   "I used an estimate based on what we received the year before," Kitchens said. "The amounts have varied every year. When it first started the amount was much higher, but it has gone down some in the past few years."
   Even though grant amounts have decreased in recent years, county schools received more money this year than they expected. The grant amount was about $10,000 more than county schools received last year. Kitchens budgeted approximately $42,000 in Safe School grants for the fiscal year.
   The funding goes toward salaries and benefits for resource officers, security equipment, and training programs at county high schools. Grant money helps offset the cost of surveillance cameras and alarm systems, which help with detection of vandalism and fires in county schools. Almost all county schools have recently been equipped with surveillance cameras.
   Four resource officers serve as security officers for the schools. The officers are based at Unaka, Cloudland, Hampton and Happy Valley High Schools, but move to wherever they are needed throughout the school system.
   Officer Michael Carlock has been working at Cloudland High School since the program began in 1998. Carlock, speaking on behalf of all four resource officers, believes their presence in the schools helps to prevent potential violence before it occurs.
   "The presence helps to deter any potential crimes that might happen. We are there and help to deter a lot of crime. It still does happen, but to a lesser degree than if we were not there," Carlock said.
   The Safe Schools grant does not completely cover the cost of equipping schools with resource officers. The school system pays the Carter County Sheriff's Department approximately $71,000 to help pay officers' salaries. Kitchens stated the Sheriff's Department helps to supplement their pay also.
   Grant money also goes toward training programs in schools. Gary Smith, Secondary Instructional Supervisor, said the system implemented a Peaceable School program that helps deter students from violence. Counselors work with students from middle school through high school.
   Smith oversees the Drug-Free portion of the safety program for Carter County Schools. State funding for the anti-drug campaign was ironed out separately from the Safe Schools grants early in the summer. County schools received approximately $38,000 through consolidated grants that pay for programs that prevent substance abuse in school aged children.
   Smith is currently making use of a Life Skills, anti-drug program for county students.
   Elizabethton City Schools will also receive funding from the Safe Schools grants. Sen. Crowe announced city schools can expect to see $18,409 in state money for facility improvements. The funds will go toward making city school's safer by providing them with monitoring and communication equipment. Some of the cost of installing and upgrading equipment will be covered by the grant money.