Hamilton County will spend $1 million to ensure there is at least one school security officer or school resource officer in every county school across the district, building on $950,000 already appropriated by the school board.
Commissioners unanimously approved the funding request during their regular meeting Wednesday. Officials will use the money to hire, train and retain additional officers.
Superintendent Justin Robertson said the district has 19 security officers, who handle a number of elementary and smaller middle schools.
The funding will add 28 school security officers, which will include support staff who can fill in when an employee is out sick. That will bring the total number of security officers to 47.
Realistically, Robertson said, the district would be able to fill the new positions by fall break next school year.
"That's a goal we are confident we can achieve," Robertson said. "I'm pressing to get it, obviously, as soon as we can."
The system already has 32 school resource officers budgeted that cover the majority of its high schools and middle schools. Sheriff Jim Hammond told commissioners that his department is down four officers from its allotment of 32, but there are four new officers in the pipeline. The sheriff expects staffing will be back up to 100% by the beginning of the upcoming school year.
Practically, both school security officers and school resource officers serve the same purpose, according to officials with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office: They keep students safe.
School security officers, however, are employed by the school system and don't have the power to arrest people, and school resource officers are commissioned sheriff's deputies. Security officers have the same abilities as a sheriff's deputy to stop a threat to students, and most security officers have previously served in law enforcement.
The funding increase received unanimous support from members of the County Commission. Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Red Bank, lauded the measure, adding that the school system has been working diligently to harden entrances at schools in Hamilton County with security measures like cameras and locks.
"We're spending a whole lot of money today," Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, R-Soddy-Daisy, added later. "But in my opinion, this is the most important money we're spending today."
Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, D-Ridgeside, shared similar praise.
"This shows that here in Hamilton County we can put aside whatever opinions that we have, whatever thoughts, whatever judgments, whatever assumptions aside, and when the priority is our kids, we can come to the table and we can find resolutions and we can find ways to work together," she said.
On Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners also approved Mayor Jim Coppinger's $881 million budget for fiscal year 2023.
Among other priorities, it reserves additional funding for retaining and hiring emergency medical and highway department workers, as well as correction officers. At large, county staff will receive a 3% pay raise or a $2,500 salary boost, whichever is higher.
Coppinger will also present separate budget requests to county commissioners for funding that will come from federal dollars distributed through the American Rescue Plan Act, approved last year by Democrats in Congress. Those could include additional money for local volunteer fire departments, an emergency medical training center and renovations to the downtown health department.
Hamilton County has been awarded $71.4 million in American Rescue Plan funds.