RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — With students going back to school in a few weeks, parents around the state have concerns about safety. Many school districts are re-evaluating their safety plan and their number of school resource officers.
According to the Arkansas School Safety Commission’s most recent statistics, there are 460 school resource officers in the state’s 223 districts. 84% of school districts have an armed presence on campus, but only 20% of Arkansas school districts have a school resource officer on all campuses. (This data was taken from a 2019 School Safety Assessment. We will not know more current data until the 2022 School Safety Assessment is completed and analyzed).
Russellville School District (RSD) already has school resource officers for its middle, junior, and senior high schools as well as an agreement with the Pope County Sheriff’s Department to provide a school resource officer for Center Valley Elementary and London Elementary, but after hearing of the 21 people killed and 17 injured in a Texas elementary school shooting, people pushed for more help for the most vulnerable.
“How can we prevent in Russellville what happened in Uvalde, Texas?”, Russellville Mayor Richard Harris asked in a Thursday night city council meeting before taking a vote in hopes to protect the city’s children.
On the agenda, was a decision to fund a school resource officer (RSO) for each elementary school within city limits, including Sequoyah, Oakland Heights, Dwight and Crawford Elementary schools, with $160,000 left over from 2021’s general fund.
The funds are set to last one year with $86,000 will go toward salaries, $44,000 will go toward equipment, and the remainder being split between retirement, insurance, and taxes.
“There’s no way you can put a price tag on a kid,” expressed Mark Tripp.
Tripp’s wife teaches fourth grade in the Russellville School District, and they have a child entering kindergarten this year. He’s also on the city council which voted unanimously to fund a school resource officer for all four elementary schools inside the city limits.
Tripp said, “The money is there. The resources are there. We just have to make it a priority.”
Mayor Harris said he anticipates RSD will help fund the partnership in the future, and he mentioned there may be some federal funds in the future that will allow the city to be reimbursed to some extent.
With the decision, all schools in the district will have their own SRO. A feat most recent Arkansas Department of Education statistics show only one in five natural state school districts has achieved.
According to Tripp, “At the end of the day the biggest concern of parents is safety in school, and the second is their education, but they want to know is their kid safe.”
The Russellville Police Department will have two school resource officers ready for the beginning of the school year according to Mayor Harris. The two other SROs are expected during the school year.