School Board President Reba Phelps detailed the plan for a proposed 5 mill tax dedicated solely to school safety and hiring school resource officers (SRO) at the board meeting Thursday.
Recalling the school shootings at Sandy Hook, Lakeland and Uvalde, Phelps said, “Keeping our children safe at school is a top priority and should not be underfunded.”
There is no mandate that is solely responsible for SROs for each campus. “It’s the responsibility of the Natchitoches Parish School Board to care for our kids when they are in our care.”
She said the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office has shouldered 75 percent of the burden by furnishing 10 SROs for the 15 campuses.
The “new” tax should generate $1.4 million to pay the salaries and benefits for 15 officers with the balance going to security equipment, artificial intelligence, thermal scanning and facial recognition equipment.
The Sheriff’s Office, Natchitoches Police Department and Northwestern State will supervise the force of officers but the school board will manage the tax money. No money will be used for administration nor management.
“It will not absolutely guarantee the safety but it will greatly increase the chance of survival,” Phelps said.
Should the board pass the resolution to call the tax at the Aug. 11 meeting, the proposition will be on the Dec. 22 ballot.
Phelps said the northern part of the parish will see a change in the property tax since the school board rolled back the tax millage for this year. District 9 and Ward 1, or the area around the city, received partial rollbacks.
The 11 board members had a chance to comment on the proposed tax with every one saying they favored increasing the number of SROs and ramping up safety at the schools. Yet some had reservations about calling for a new tax. Tan’Keia Palmer said she was all for school security but she was not sure she was for the tax just yet. She believes there may be other resources that have not been considered. “My community—-the people are struggling already. This is not a no but what are the other options?”
Rhonda Guidroz said the board should exhaust all opportunities before putting the burden on taxpayers.
Beverly Broadway said the SROs were invaluable and every school should have one. “I’m in favor,” Broadway said.
Every other board member favored having more SROs and security equipment but wanted to explore all other options.
Sheriff Stuart Wright was at the meeting and had a lot of information to offer. He said the problem with hiring more SROs is lack of personnel. “I don’t have another five more. We have limits. We have pulled our fair share and will continue to do so.”
The sheriff’s office spends $900,000 annually for the 10 SROs now in place and is reimbursed $300,000 by the school board. “That’s $600,000 out of our budget,” Wright said.
His fuel costs have doubled and he has serious problems recruiting officers because salaries are considerably higher in Red River and Desoto parishes. “We’re down on patrols,” Wright said. “We have more school resource officers than we have patrol deputies.” He also expects to lose some officers to the La. State Police.
“We’re willing to work with you all we can…but we can’t do it by ourselves. We just can’t do it.”
Yet another growing problem with SROs is the issue of liability he said, pointing to the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting and resulting law suits that he said will continue for years.
“At the end of the day,” Wright said, “We have to have a resource officer that is willing to go through that door and get shot or shoot the guy that’s killing the kids. That’s the bottom line.”