LaGrange sends SRO amendment back to the drawing board

Published 9:30 am Friday, December 16, 2022

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The LaGrange City Council discussed a potential second amendment to the agreement with the Troup County School System to provide school resource officers (SRO) on Tuesday.

For years, the city has provided SROs to schools based on an agreement with the Board of Education. When the agreement started, it included four schools: Hope Academy, Gardner Newman, LaGrange High and Troup High. The agreement was later amended to add an SRO at Thinc College and Career Academy.

With the school board’s plan to add SROs in each of the school system’s 11 elementary schools, they are now seeking five additional SROs from the LaGrange Police Department to cover Berta Weathersbee, Ethel Kight, Hollis Hand and Franklin Forest.

Under the current agreement, the school system pays for the salaries of five officers at $56,274.44 each and they would like to add five officers for a total of 10 from the city.

Councilman Mark Mitchell questioned LPD’s ability to fill the SRO positions with the current difficulty it is having maintaining full staffing. LPD is currently short about four or five officers, City Manager Meg Kelsey said.

“What did I tell y’all? I told y’all at Christmas that we would still be talking about being short five officers,” Mitchell said. “Are we going to take away from patrol to put in five offers into elementary schools and make our response time even more?”

Mitchell said a single incident can deplete all of the city’s police resources on any given night.

“We’ve got that fill our positions that we got to grow as we’re growing. We cannot get behind on our police and fire,” he said.

“The understanding is that we wouldn’t send anyone until we have the staff to do so,” Kelsey said.

Councilman Gaskin asked if the money that the school system is paying for the SROs includes their insurance.

Kelsey said that the $56,000 that TCSS provides is not the full compensation package that the city pays for a police officer, noting they don’t work a full year in the schools.

“We’re losing gas. We’re losing a vehicle. We’re losing computers,” Mitchell said. ”If something happens, and they’re out going to and from a school they’re still doing public safety. I get that, but we’re losing money by sending 10 officers to the school system.”

Ten officers would be about 10 percent of the city’s police force, Mitchell said.

“I think [the school system] just wants to directly provide that contract with us to compensate them,” Kelsey said, explaining that officers aren’t school system employees and aren’t on their insurance. “If you wanted to do that, you could consider increasing the rate.”

“We are letting them off cheap at 50 grand,” Gaskin said.

“We’re losing money.” Mitchell echoed. “We’re going to provide 10 officers. That’s 10 percent of our force.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Willie Edmondson suggested talking to the school board to adjust the agreement to provide full compensation to the officers.

“I think we should provide a service for the children in our communities for this at the schools. But if we can figure out a way to work it out with the school system to help pay for it, then that’s even better,” Councilman Jim Arrington said.

“My concern is I just want to have some trained police officers in the school in case something does happen,” Edmondson said.

The issue had been on the agenda for consideration at Tuesday’s council meeting but it was removed. Kelsey said she would reach out to the school system to renegotiate the money they provide for SRO compensation.