News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 6, 2013

10 more deputies sought for schools

Vigo Council, school corporation would split $270K cost

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A Safe Schools Task Force formed by Sheriff Greg Ewing wants to put special deputies in 10 Vigo County School Corp. rural county schools.

The proposal, which Ewing outlined Tuesday at a news conference, would require $135,000 in county funding and a $135,000 match from the school district.

Ewing plans to submit the proposal to the Vigo County Council, and Superintendent Dan Tanoos said he’ll present it to the School Board Monday.

The recommendation is a response to the “horrific events” that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Ewing wrote in a letter to the county auditor and county council. “As you are fully aware, I do not have the staff to adequately protect our rural schools from harm.”

 He created a Sheriff’s Safe Schools Task Force, which comprised law enforcement, school district personnel, a representative of the Vigo County Council and community leaders.

The group’s mission was to “find a way to enhance security to our rural schools while being fiscally responsible. After lengthy discussions, a plan was developed that has a buy-in from both the school corporation and county government,” Ewing wrote in the letter.

“I don’t want a Sandy Hook on my watch,” Ewing said during Tuesday’s news conference at the school district administration building. “We can’t wait for grants to come down the pike. We have to do something now.”

Rural schools are at higher risk because law enforcement response time is longer, he said.

The 10 special deputies would be non-merit employees of the sheriff’s department, and they would be at the school for the duration of the school day — from before it starts until after it ends.

Ewing anticipates using several retired law enforcement officers, who have previously received training at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. Also, those individuals chosen would have to be the “right fit” for the schools, he said.

According to County Council president Bill Thomas, the proposal would likely be assigned to a committee this month and then acted upon in March.

The proposal is intended “to protect our most precious asset, our children,” Thomas said. While there may be federal and state funding available in the future, “in the meantime, I feel that we need to step up and move forward with this program.”

The School Board will discuss the proposal Monday. “We have the resources available financially to support this not only this year, but into the future,” Tanoos said.

Four members of the county council attended the news conference, Thomas, Mike Morris, Rick Burger and Tim Curley. Each one indicated support for the proposal.

Curley, who served on the task force, said the proposal represents a partnership between the county and school district. “I think this is something that will be looked at statewide” and perhaps beyond Indiana, he said.

Tanoos thanked the council for its consideration, and noted that it’s not easy to quickly find funding for such initiatives.

But Tanoos also added, “When you talk about priorities, there’s nothing more important than the safety and security of our citizens, and especially our children.”

The schools that would have special deputies are Otter Creek and Honey Creek middle schools, as well as Rio Grande, Lost Creek, Riley, Dixie Bee, Hoosier Prairie, West Vigo, Sugar Creek Consolidated and Fayette elementary schools.

Because West Vigo Middle School and High School are attached, the role of the security  officer already assigned to the high school will be expanded to include the middle school, Ewing wrote.

The sheriff’s department would create a new school security division. The special deputies would have to have prior law enforcement or criminal justice experience, and they also would have to undergo school safety specialist training through the school district.

County council member Mike Morris said he’s talked to many people in the community, who have different ideas about security. “They didn’t feel unsafe in our current schools,” Morris said. “But they did trust our superintendent and sheriff, and seeing as how you’ve come up with these ideas to increase safety, they are all for it.”

Burger described the effort as a community partnership. “I’m proud to be part of the partnership we have here,” he said.

If the proposal receives approvals from the county council and school board, Ewing said the new special deputies potentially could be in place before the end of the school year, and “most definitely by the start of the next school year.”

But in the meantime, he’s instituted other measures to provide added security to rural, county schools, and that will continue, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.