Seymour trustees discuss expense of adding school resource officers

Seymour Community School Corp. is looking into hiring more school resource officers to keep students, teachers and staff safe.

Superintendent Rob Hooker said he isn’t sure how many additional officers the district needs, how many it can afford or even how many can be found.

Currently, the district has three full-time school resource officers — one stationed at Seymour High School, one at Seymour Middle School and one responsible for all five elementary schools. Two of the officers are with the Seymour Police Department, and the other is retired but an active reserve.

The cost to employ an officer is around $70,000, Hooker said. That expense is paid for through federal and state school safety grants. The grants require matching funds from the school corporation.

School board member Jeff Joray said before making a decision, he would like a cost comparison of hiring police officers versus hiring security guards that are qualified and trained to carry a gun.

“I’m not talking about a mall cop or anything like that,” Joray said. “I’m just looking at cost efficiency. If we put a resource officer in every building, I don’t think we can afford it.”

He said there are likely retired military and law enforcement personnel in the community that would have the training and background and be qualified to fill such a post or a private company that could be used to provide security services.

Hooker questioned who would qualify as a security guard to work in a public school setting.

“I’ll have to look to see if I can find something out there,” he said. “This is a new territory for schools as far as who qualifies to be a person in a school with a weapon.”

He said the board will have to weigh all of the responsibilities.

“What is the risk versus the reward ratio to going with arming individuals because you will still have to screen them and have a way to train them and keep them trained in order to deal with the insurance implications,” Hooker said.

Board President Art Juergens said it’s not a question of whether the corporation can afford the expense.

“We need to do it, and I think we need to do it the way we have been by putting trained law officers in the buildings,” he said.

Joray said he didn’t know what makes a resource officer more qualified than a retired military person.

“SROs are qualified to be around schoolchildren and school personnel,” Hooker said. “Military works with adults.”

Trustee Nancy Franke asked if there were any other school corporations hiring armed security guards.

Hooker said there are two school systems in Indiana — North White School Corp. based in Monon and Jay School Corp. in Portland — that are making headlines for allowing staff or other designated people to have guns in school.

North White allows for administrators to carry firearms after completing two training sessions. Being a small, rural district, law enforcement response times can be slower than those in larger communities, and the district couldn’t afford to hire police officers or security guards.

Jay School Corp. just approved a comprehensive security plan that increases armed security with trained staff and installs gun safes in the schools.

Seymour Community Schools conducted a survey of teachers and staff this spring to determine what additional steps they would prefer the district take to increase school safety.

The results showed employees would rather the district hire additional school resource officers, but many agreed allowing certain teachers and staff who are trained to carry guns would make schools safer overall.

Hooker said the district will continue to study other options to increase safety, including arming school personnel and adding metal detectors. But he said he would like to seek out additional school resource officers in the meantime.

“If society continues to worsen and more and more schools want to go this route, I don’t know if our police agencies can give us all those officers,” he said.