(Memphis) School safety is front and center as the Shelby County school system works to protect tens of thousands of students and staff.
“Our security staff has done an outstanding job. You haven’t heard of a lot of security issues. Kids tried to bring guns to school, fortunately we found them,” SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said.
As of the 2014-15 school year, there will be fewer bodies to protect.
The opening of municipal schools will shrink the Shelby County School System’s student body from 140,000 kids to just more than 117,000.
You might think that would also mean a reduction in the number of security officers needed to protect those fewer students.
While Shelby County Schools cut its budget by more than 20 percent and eliminated more than 4,500 positions, one area that was virtually untouched was school security.
“With some of the security issues we have in Memphis and other urban communities, it just wouldn’t be responsible to take any chances with our babies,” Hopson said.
In 2013-14, Shelby County Schools used $10.6 million and 141 people on staff to keep schools safe.
The new school budget puts close to a million dollars more into school safety and cuts only four safety and security positions.
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson says municipal schools don’t really impact SCS security needs.
He says municipal police departments did security in those outlying schools all along, and Shelby County School Security staff continued to work the same schools that they did under Memphis City Schools.
“There wasn’t a significant amount of in-house resources out in the schools in the county such that we cold eliminate them,” Hopson said.
He also defended the salaries made by top security officers, including Chief Gerald Darling, who makes $160,000 a year.
“Our security head is well within the reasonable salaries of comparable cities,” Hopson said.
We checked comparable size school systems.
There are the 142,000 students and 160 schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, but there are only 50 school security officers.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Police Chief makes $78,000.
Duvall County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., have 127,000 students in 192 schools. They have 329 security personnel. That school police chief earns $98,000 a year.
County Commissioners who provide local funding to Shelby County Schools are in the middle of reviewing the school budget.
Despite being in a belt-tightening year, security may just get through unscathed.
“When you have that many children, you just really have to tie down on security. That would be one of the last areas I would look at to cut is security,” Commissioner Heidi Shafer said.
“I think just the presence of an officer in that system I think would deter a whole lot of things that would normally take place were they not there. It’s a good thing that they fund it and fund it well,” Commissioner Sidney Chism said.
The Shelby County Commission must have its final budget, which includes the school system’s budget request, approved by July 1st.