Sheriff’s office won’t participate in school security funding plan
By AMY JONES / Associate Editor
Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry emphatically rejected a request for funding as part of a school security plan put forth by the Shelby County Board of Education and the Shelby County Commission.
The Safe Schools Initiative, which was approved by the County Commission at its May 28 meeting, requests $123,500 in funding from the sheriff’s office as part of $1.4 million. Funding from the County Commission, Board of Education, county municipalities and Alabaster and Hoover school systems would make up the rest of the $1.4 million, which could fund 19 law enforcement officers or about 35 retired law enforcement officers for school security posts.
Funding for the plan would begin in the next fiscal year.
In a June 4 statement, Curry wrote that he first found out about the $123,500 amount requested from the sheriff’s office “approximately two weeks ago,” when Shelby County Assistant Superintendent of Administration Dr. Lewis Brooks delivered documents to him outlining the plan and funding amounts.
According to previous reports, Brooks, County Commissioner Lindsey Allison, Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller, County Finance Manager Butch Burbage and County Manager Alex Dudchock began meeting about a school security funding plan in February.
In Curry’s statement, he said the requested $123,500 would have to come from a sheriff’s office discretionary fund, known as the “pistol fund” because it is funded by the sale of pistol permits.
Curry said that for the past five years, the average annual income generated in the pistol fund has been $298,000, and because of other funding obligations for that money — police dogs, officer training, communications equipment, specialty training, community programs and others — he would not be able to find $123,500 to go toward the school security funding plan.
The sheriff also said that legally, county officials cannot compel him to spend discretionary funds against his will.
“I, along with all Shelby County Sheriff’s employees, remain committed to the safety and welfare of our children at all times, but specifically while in school,” he wrote in the statement. “The Safe Schools Initiative is a good plan and I support it, but the legal opinion is that I cannot use pistol permit funds in this manner.”
PLAN WILL MOVE FORWARD
In an email to Brooks and Shelby County Superintendent Randy Fuller, County Manager Alex Dudchock said the funding plan will move forward, albeit without the budgeted funds from the sheriff’s office.
“Thank you for your work to date, and we can only plan to utilize the funding from the partners that have responded positively to the collaborative efforts,” Dudchock wrote in the email.
In an emailed comment to the Shelby County Reporter, Dudchock said he felt it was appropriate for the Shelby County Board of Education to request the sheriff’s assistance with funding. Dudchock said that Board of Education officials and County Commission officials worked together to come up with the requested funding amounts, including the amount requested from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, in the school security funding plan.
“It appears that the sheriff was asked for about a third of his pistol permit funds for law enforcement expenses for school security. The school system asked the County Commission for additional funds, along with the applicable municipalities,” Dudchock wrote. “Each entity has to independently decide if they want to partner and provide resources.
“Our county has been successful in many areas and projects through building partnerships, and our goal is to keep striving for such,” Dudchock added.
SCHOOL SYSTEM OFFICIAL SPEAKS
Brooks said the sheriff’s office was not included when forming the funding plan because the school system saw the County Commission as a funding partner rather than the sheriff’s office.
“We decided that the first funding partner we needed to secure was the County Commission, and then the county municipalities that would give their support,” Brooks said. “The reality is, we went to the funding entity for the sheriff’s office, which is the County Commission. Whether that’s right or wrong, they fund the sheriff’s office, so we went to them.”
Brooks said the County Commission chose to request that the sheriff contribute $123,500 as part of the funding plan.
“To be honest with you, that request didn’t come from me. That request came from the Commission,” he said. “We certainly wanted the sheriff to be a partner, and he has been a very good partner. He has been a very, very good partner to the Board of Education.”
Brooks said he expects the sheriff’s office to find another way to support the Safe Schools Initiative.
“I believe that regardless of what the sheriff has said, I’m still confident that the sheriff will support us. How that will happen, I don’t know,” Brooks said.
Brooks said he does not know how the plan will make up for the loss of $123,500 in expected funding from the sheriff.
“I don’t know. That will be something I will have to talk through with the other municipal leaders and, of course, with the County Commission,” Brooks said.
According to the proposal, if the plan funds 19 law enforcement officers, the Alabaster, Chelsea, Oak Mountain/Indian Springs and Pelham school zones would get three officers apiece, while the Hoover zone would get two officers. The Calera, Columbiana, Helena, Montevallo and Vincent zones would get one officer apiece.
The County Commission and Shelby County Board of Education are also applying for a Department of Justice grant that would fund three additional officers in schools. There is no determination yet on where those three officers would be if the grant comes through.