Effingham commissioners approve 5 more SROs after school system request • Georgia Virtue
The Effingham County Board of Commissioners voted last week to add additional school resource officers to the sheriff’s fiscal year 2023 budget after a request from the school system.
The proposal followed a request from Effingham County Schools following “recent events in other school districts across the country.” The addition of five SROs would place an SRO in each school in the district with a 25% funding share paid from the County Commission budget and 75% paid from the Board of Education budget.
Director of Human Resources Sarah Mausolf told commissioners that current operations have an ECSO deputy/school resource officer splitting time at respective high school and middle school. With all their chores and directing traffic, “they don’t take care of the kids,” she said.
Commissioner Reggie Loper suggested that SROs are not doing “what we want them to do” when directing traffic. County staff explained that traffic control is part of the SRO’s job description and that SROs enter buildings once the bell has rung.
SRO but no highway patrol?
County Administrator Tim Callanan added to the presentation that Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie shared that he would consider expanding the candidate pool by seeking applicants who would only work during the school year. In these cases, county commissioners would contribute nothing to salaries from the county budget.
Loper asked if deputies could be used for other things by the sheriff when not in school and Callanan replied “if we pay the 25%”.
When asked if he had spoken with the school system about the lack of contribution for county salary and benefits, Callanan replied, “No.”
Callanan said the county doesn’t get deputies work 25% of the year if they only work during the school year. His comments suggest that summer represents three calendar months (or 25%) per year. In reality, the summer months include less than a week in May, the month of June and three weeks in July.
Commissioner Wesley Corbitt said he always understood that sharing the cost of salaries and benefits was a mutual agreement that made it less costly for the school system and the county to have a law enforcement presence on the campus. He said he didn’t know it was because of the time spent in school and on the road.
Callanan said that [sharing the costs regardless of road patrol service] was an avenue to explore.
Commissioners also asked if SROs received “fully equipped” vehicles and if SROs were POST certified and transported [a weapon] at work. Both received an affirmative answer.
“So if there was a situation where the SRO wasn’t working the other two months, the sheriff could put that vehicle into service,” Commissioner Phil Kieffer said. This, of course, would require the sheriff’s office to have a deputy who only works two months a year.
Hiring amid staff shortages
Sheriff McDuffie will be responsible for hiring additional SROs.
The Sheriff’s Office is currently understaffed by a large margin compared to desired staffing levels. Commissioners voted to raise pay for all ECSO employees by $3.00 an hour in the new fiscal year, but retention remains an issue when better benefits and higher pay are offered elsewhere. A multi-year wage compensation study that cost taxpayers nearly $20,000 has exacerbated wage squeeze problems and despite more than $60 million in unrestricted funds in the bank, Effingham County continues to pay employees below other agencies in the region.
Regarding salary at Tuesday’s meeting, Callanan said the school system was generous enough to offer a monthly stipend of $250 to SROs. “We’ve obviously already increased the salary in the new budget and that just offers another sweetener to consider.”
Ultimately, a motion was moved to approve the five additional SROs by Commissioner Burdette and seconded by Floyd. It passed unanimously. The actual vote was to approve the addition of the positions. The cost of the posts to the county or BOE will be determined at a later date via a budget amendment from the Director of Finance. It also remains to be determined whether or not the county contributes 25% for school year deputies only.