Sheriff denied immediate funding to put deputies in schools

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The Shelby County Commission denied Sheriff Chris Curry’s request for immediate additional funding to place deputies in 11 schools across the county.

During a Dec. 26 commission meeting, Curry passed out copies of emails and Facebook comments from concerned parents who were asking for law enforcement presence in Shelby County schools after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. in mid-December.

Curry asked the commission to fund overtime pay to place deputies in the 11 schools in which the Sheriff’s Office is responsible, which include Oak Mountain, Inverness, Chelsea, Mt Laurel, Wilsonville and Shelby schools.

While uncertain of the exact cost, Curry estimated the Sheriff’s Office would need about an additional $20,000 per week.

“How long we’re going to run, we don’t know yet,” Curry said. “We owe an obligation to protect children and schools. This is the action we need to take right now in order to continue making right decisions.”

Curry said he plans on putting deputies in the schools regardless if the commission agrees to supply the extra funding. To do so, however, would mean pulling day-shift deputies from regular service, such as patrolling and serving court papers, to be in the schools.

“We’ll be over budget at the end of the year,” Curry said. “Our children’s safety is more important than coming in under budget.”

Additionally, Curry presented a letter from Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller, which thanked the sheriff for “your call to action in making school safety a top priority” during the week before Christmas.

“Please know that parents are inquiring what will be done in the coming weeks to ensure the safety of their students,” Fuller wrote. “Hopefully, through the collaborative efforts of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, local police departments, the Shelby County Commission, our legislative delegation, the State Department of Education and federal officials, a plan can be established.”

Commission Chairperson Lindsey Allison referred to Fuller’s letter when she said the commission is “just one stakeholder in this.”

“It’s a collaborative effort on all of us,” she said. “We’re all well aware we have limited financial (means). I don’t feel comfortable knowing we just got through the budget process, and I don’t think we can make a go at it.”

Allison proposed a commissioner attend the next meeting between Curry and the Shelby County Board of Education to “dialogue” about a solution.

“When you meet with the Board of Education, we’d be more than happy to sit down and see what Mr. Fuller has to offer. I think we all want the same thing,” Allison said, noting the commission would have to reach into the county’s reserves to fund the request.

Curry said his next meeting with the BOE is set for Jan. 3, and students return to school Jan. 4.

“You are our funding source. We’ve got to have a position and plan in place on the morning of January 4,” Curry said.

Allison said there are “too many entities” in the county depending on the commission for funding.

“I don’t want anyone to think we’re not trying,” she said, “but we can’t just write a check. We’ve got to be smarter than that and get all the players to the table.”