If education officials want to keep county police officers in the schools this fall, it will cost them $1.6 million.
That was the final decision Tuesday night as the Horry County Council approved the $453 million fiscal year budget that begins in July without the 50 percent funding requested by the school board to pay for school resource officers (SRO).
“We stand by what the law says, and the law says you cannot pay for SRO officers from the general fund,” said Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman. “That fact is what has been presented to the school board.”
It’s now up to Horry County Schools to pay for the 180 days that 21 police officers are in middle and high schools instead of on patrol.
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The county would be responsible for paying the officers when they are not on school time, which is an estimated $245,837.
Lazarus said the county would use the officers in the summertime for beach and street patrol.
The school board declined to commit to that funding Monday night when their final vote was taken on the education budget, and tabled the SRO issue to be addressed at a later date.
At most, school officials indicated they will only pay $800,000 — half of the full amount.
Education officials say they are still working on other options to get police officers in the schools, and have mentioned pursuing the sheriff’s office to see if deputies are available.
That’s not likely to happen either, Lazarus said.
“I don’t think that as tight as things are in all of our departments, the sheriff would have 21 people to put into schools. He needs them desperately in his organization,” Lazarus said.
Even if the sheriff’s department had the manpower, that agency’s funding also comes from the general fund, by way of the county council.
Although the county council has funded 50 percent of the cost for school resource officers in past years, Lazarus said they only recently learned that state law does not permit SRO funding from the county’s general fund.
“We did it in the past without realizing it wasn’t legal, everybody makes mistakes,” Lazarus aid.
“I think it’s only fair that it comes out of the right pot of money,” Lazarus said.