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Budget Cuts Pinching In-School Officers

February 10, 2002
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Budget Cuts Pinching In-School Officers

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Budget cuts and the loss of federal grants will soon put the squeeze on law enforcement officers in schools.

The state Education Department expects to continue paying $34,500 to each high school for an officer or a guidance counselor. But officers' salaries, equipment and benefits, often cost about $55,000 a year.

Several counties - at least 18 - have been using federal grants to make up the difference, but many of those expire this year.

Many in education say the officers, who respond to crimes at their schools and try to prevent incidents by getting to know students, are helpful.

"They're a wonderful thing; they've been very successful, but you've got a tight budget," said Marion County administrator Pete Rogers.

The cuts are particularly hard to take with ongoing state budget woes that cut school funding by 4 percent earlier this year. But the officers are popular with parents.

"You hate to think that you need the presence of a police officer at school," said Dolly Montgomery, whose three sons attend Chapin's elementary, middle and high schools. "But I think it's worked into a positive thing. His presence is a deterrent to things going on, and he becomes like a mentor to them."

Law enforcement officials say the peace of mind and real safety provided by the officers are essential.

"There is a general concern about not having them," said Jeff Moore, director of the South Carolina Sheriff's Association. "When you provide a resource officer and then you pull them out, then there's a concern for an entire community."

The idea of putting officers in schools dates back to the 1950s in Michigan, but it didn't catch on nationwide until the 1990s with the help of federal dollars and high-profile school shootings. As of last fall, there were about 14,000 school resource officers nationwide.

In South Carolina, one of the earliest programs started at Lexington County's Airport High School in 1993. Now every county in South Carolina has school resource officers, mostly at high schools and middle schools. Some school boards use local money to pay for elementary school officers.

"You never know when something can happen," said Pelion resident Elaine Addy, whose daughter graduated from Lexington 1 schools. The officers, she said, "are like a God-sent prayer."

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