For Dr. Greg Wallace, the Johnson City School System’s supervisor of safety and mental health, an influx of capital and support personnel at the start of a new school year is a development that is equal parts wonderful and unfortunate.
On one hand, the school system now has four additional school resource officers and some extra funding to keep students in Johnson City safe. A total of 14 resource officers are now keeping watch at the city’s schools, and following Tennessee’s first-ever statewide assessment of school facilities and safety procedures, Johnson City received a one-time allocation of $163,400 from the state to spend on school security. The city’s annual funding from the state earmarked for school safety jumped to $65,360, which is approximately twice as much as the system received in recent years.
On the other hand, however, Wallace said the increased investment in security is a reminder that we now live in a world where a child’s safety in the classroom can no longer be taken for granted.
“It’s fantastic in a way, because it shows how committed our system is,” Wallace said. “The negative is that we have to have it. Ten years ago, we just didn’t think of the need for (SROs at) elementary (schools). Now the world has changed.”
To address the changing world, Gov. Bill Haslam called for the statewide assessment earlier this year. Upon completion of an exhaustive checklist designed by the Department of Homeland Security, Haslam disbursed $35 million to schools around the state to ensure every school could take significant steps to make their teachers, students and staff members more secure.
In the case of the Johnson City School System, the assessment largely validated Wallace’s belief that cooperation between the city’s schools, police department, city commission, and school board has helped put they city’s school system ahead of the game when it comes to security.
During Wallace’s time working with the school system, the number of school resource officers has increased from four to 14. And long before the state implemented a security assessment, schools in Johnson City were completing their own annual checklist provided by the JCPD.
So while some school systems were using their one-time payouts as seed money to start hiring SROs, Johnson City was able to use the one-time disbursement to ensure every school in the system received up-to-date security cameras.
“As far as big-ticket items, the board had just appropriated $100,000 to update our cameras at Science Hill, Liberty Bell and Topper Academy,” Wallace said. “So we felt like we could use those one-time dollars to update all of our cameras from Indian Trail and for the rest of our schools.”
As for the increase in annual funds, the Johnson City School System will use that money to train the 14 SROs, whose salaries are now paid by the JCPD. Prior to this year, the school system paid the salary of one resource officer.
“We’ve set out a large percentage of the new part of that money to send them to the National Association of School Resource Officers and providing them with whatever training they need, Wallace said. “We felt like that was a fair partnership.”
A small portion of the recurring money will also go toward keeping the Raptor System up and running in the city’s schools. Wallace said the state-of-the-art computer system has been an excellent security tool, especially at a cost of $450 per school per year to continue the service.
Looking ahead, Wallace said one question will guide the school system’s efforts to stay ahead of the curve in terms of student safety: “How do we continue to have an open, cosmetically appealing educational environment and still feel safe?”