It soon will cost Lexington County schools more for deputies to safeguard students.
County Council members are pushing schools to pay more of the $2.6 million cost for 36 school resource officers, replacing the current 50-50 split.
The assignment has become virtually full time, preventing those deputies from helping to meet the increasing demands to patrol neighborhoods across the 758-square-mile county.
“We need more officers on the street,” Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat said. “We can’t keep doing it the way we have.”
County leaders insist schools won’t be left unprotected, but are pushing for districts to chip in more, perhaps in stages, in a change that begins for mid-2016.
The demand comes as educators cope with declining state aid and slower property tax growth.
“It’s one more challenge we’ve got to juggle,” Lexington-Richland 5 Superintendent Stephen Hefner said.
Having a deputy in schools all day is “a huge value” both for security and for developing appreciation for law enforcement among students, he said.
But it no longer may be affordable.
Elementary schools on the north side of Lake Murray soon may be forced to share 12 deputies instead of each having one, Hefner has told school board members.
That may be a harbinger of what’s ahead.
School leaders should select the level of protection instead of automatically getting a full-time deputy, Councilman Jim Kinard said.
“If you want more, you’ve got to pay more,” said Kinard, a former Lexington 4 school board member.
Some school leaders are ready to do that.
Keeping the three deputies now in Lexington 4 classrooms is a top goal for Superintendent Linda Lavender even if the price rises.
“We’ll try to manage it,” she said. “Our parents want it – safety is a priority.”
The change is one of the first coming as council members assume more oversight of law enforcement.
New Sheriff Jay Koon, whose wife is a Lexington 1 teacher, is leaving the matter up to county and school leaders to settle.
Deputies now serve as full-time officers at half of the 69 schools – mostly middle and high schools – in the county.
A different approach is taking shape in elementary classrooms:
▪ Lexington 1 and Lexington 2 hire off-duty deputies to drop by 14 schools.
▪ Police in Lexington and West Columbia provide coverage full time.
▪ Officers in Pelion, South Congaree and other small towns visit schools a few hours during patrols.
West Columbia probably will seek to match the county change on allocating costs with schools, Police Chief Dennis Tyndall said.
So far, county leaders aren’t asking schools to chip more in for deputies who provide security and traffic control for sports and other events.
The demand for schools to bear most of the cost for deputies on campuses comes as declining state aid is causing county officials to revamp several partnerships for services.
“We’ve turned the page,” Councilman Todd Cullum said. “This is the direction we’re going.”
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483