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Brooke County officials balk at contract with board of education for school resource officers

WELLSBURG — The Brooke County Commission has tabled a proposed new contract for the county’s school resource officers that would involve the school district paying only for their service while in schools.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the commissioners also learned free testing for COVID-19 will be offered on Friday and Saturday to anyone interested.

The commissioners told representatives of the Brooke County Board of Education they are unhappy with changes included in a proposed one-year contract through which the board would reimburse the county for the service of the four sheriff’s deputies and will prepare an alternative contract for the school board’s consideration.

Commissioner A.J. Thomas told Deidra Parr, the school district’s treasurer, “proposed modifications (in the contract) changed the entire nature of the agreement. The whole thing is different now.”

Commission President Tim Ennis said he and the other commissioners were under the impression only the length of the contract would change, from three years to one.

Parr confirmed the school board may not enter into a long-term contract but added state officials also have advised it may not pay for services it’s not receiving.

She said that includes duties performed by resource officers when not in school buildings.

The county’s first school resource officers were funded with state grants but as state funding became more difficult to secure, the county, Wellsburg city officials and the school board agreed to share in the cost for the officers.

In 2019 the officers, including a Wellsburg officer assigned to Brooke Middle School, were included in the school district’s five-year levy.

A line item in the levy calls for $1,434,355 to be used for “health, safety and security enhancements, including, but not limited to, the provision before and after care costs, new playground and Wellness Center equipment, engagement of Resource Officers and additional security for each of the schools located in Brooke County, the purchase and/or rental of uniforms (and related equipment and/or costs) for service personnel, capital improvements, renovations and repair of facilities for the health, safety and security of students, staff and guests and to comply with fire marshal, health, Americans with Disabilities Act, EPA and OSHA standards.”

In recent months the school board was dealt a financial blow when it was learned the levy was miscalculated by former staff, resulting in a $3.2 million-per-year shortfall.

Thomas said because the officers were included in the levy, the commission hasn’t budgeted for them.

Following the meeting, the commissioners said the board reimburses the county about $450,000 for the officers.

Wellsburg Police Chief Richard Ferguson said, “The one thing that stands in the back of my mind is the citizens stood behind it (the levy).”

Noting school officers were part of it, he said, “Let’s not demolish the program.”

Asked if the schools could lose their resource officers, Parr said if an agreement can’t be reached with the commission, the board may consider hiring security guards who could be trained to serve schools.

Brooke County Sheriff Larry Palmer said as a former resource officer of 12 years, he’s not aware of that being done. But he said as a non-certified officer, security guards may not make arrests, conduct investigations or carry a gun.

Palmer said he’s asked state legislators to make state funds available for resource officers again.

Following the meeting, the commissioners issued the following statement:

“The Brooke County Commission isn’t in favor of reducing the number of police officers on the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department’s force. In February 2019, the Brooke County Board of Education levy was passed by the taxpayers. The levy materials distributed to the public guaranteed a police officer in every school, and the levy call itself specifically provides funding for prevention resource officers.

“After the levy was approved, the Board of Education approached the Brooke County Commission and requested that four additional police officers be hired by the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department to provide an officer for every school. The Brooke County Commission and the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department agreed only after the Board of Education committed the levy funds to the cost of these officers.”

The commissioners also heard from April Eltringham, community wellness representative for the Brooke County Health Department, who said free drive-through testing for COVID-19 will be offered to anyone from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Brooke high and middle school parking lots.

She said participants don’t need to be experiencing symptoms.

Eltringham said participants are asked to bring identification and wear a mask. Those without transportation may arrange a ride by calling (304) 737-3665.

On Tuesday afternoon the department reported 22 active cases, including one who has been hospitalized.

The most recent cases include a woman in her 50s, a woman and man in their 60s, a man in his 70s and a woman and man in their 80s.

The total number of positive tests among county residents has increased from nine to 38 since July 1, which caused concern about the virus’s spread.

She said younger people were among the first of the newer cases but the virus appears to have spread to older residents, who are among those most at risk of suffering severely from it.

Eltringham said while a few of the recent patients had traveled outside the Ohio Valley, most had not.

Asked whether people should wear masks, Eltringham said they should, as well as take other measures such as cleaning hands after touching grocery carts and other things handled by many people.

Also on Tuesday, the commission adjusted the budget for the current fiscal year to reflect a $1.5 million carryover from the previous year.

Ennis said he and the other commissioners had budgeted for a $1.2 million carryover so it means $300,000 in unallocated funds, which the commission can apply to unanticipated expenses.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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