Superintendent: State funding frees up money for resource officers

Published 9:08 pm Friday, June 17, 2022

After months of debate, Virginia’s Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House of Delegates have agreed on a state budget — one that allocates Isle of Wight County Schools $296,457 beyond what was expected.

Now, Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton and Isle of Wight’s School Board are asking the county’s supervisors to take an equal amount from the roughly $812,000 they voted in May to “set aside” from the school system’s budget and reallocate those funds to Sheriff James Clarke Jr. for the placement of deputies in each each of the county’s five elementary schools.

Thornton made an impassioned plea for the funding at the School Board’s June 9 meeting, reading off the names of the 19 students and two teachers killed in the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

“Even with our best efforts, school shootings will still occur,” Thornton said. “We need to be able to provide an immediate response on-site to any active threat in any one of our schools. … I don’t want to ever have another superintendent making a similar plea by reading off a list of names of our students.”

Isle of Wight County’s two high schools and two middle schools each has a deputy assigned to them as a school resource officer. Patrol deputies also routinely visit the county’s five elementary schools, but aren’t stationed there every day.

Thornton had proposed an agreement with Clarke earlier this year in which IWCS would have taken over funding the salaries, benefits, uniforms and equipment for the four deputies serving as resource officers, plus the cost of hiring five more, during the 10 months those officers would be stationed in each school. But the supervisors opted not to fund Thornton’s proposal and instead allocated an extra $100,000 to Clarke’s budget to facilitate the hiring of four deputies — one of whom would rotate between the elementary schools as a resource officer.

On June 2, one week prior to the School Board’s meeting, two supervisors had proposed that the county create a commission or task force to take a broader look at the issue of school security in light of Uvalde.

“I am pleased that this is happening, but I am concerned about the present,” Thornton said. “A committee or task force will take time. … Any further delays will likely cause another year without these positions.”

Among the options the supervisors discussed on June 2 was the possibility of IWCS employing its own security guards. This, however, would require IWCS and “outside contractors” to train and supervise employees “who would be carrying weapons in our schools,” Thornton said. “The sheriff and his highly-trained officers are the best answer to protecting our students and staff.”

The supervisors were scheduled to discuss Thornton’s request Thursday, but the meeting hadn’t started by press deadline.