LMPD car

A Louisville Metro Police patrol car | Photo by Tony Pacheco

Grappling with city budget cuts and new state law, Jefferson County Public Schools is proposing reassigning existing security personnel to school resource officer positions for the coming school year.

JCPS lost 17 of its 28 SROs, who are contracted police officers assigned to schools, when massive city budget cuts hit Louisville Metro Police. To replace them, the district is proposing moving nine nighttime security officers into SRO roles, according to school board documents. Each officer would be expected to cover two middle or high schools.

JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said the three-phase plan is preliminary and might be altered after a school board work session next Tuesday. A final board vote will be scheduled for a later date.

If the plan passes as is, those nine officers would be trained and would land in schools in late August or early September, per board documents. Officer functions, like if they will carry guns or have arrest powers, are undecided and will be discussed Tuesday, Murphy said.

Smaller SRO contracts with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Jeffersontown Police and St. Matthew’s Police are expected to continue. JCPS may contract with the Shively Police for a new officer at Butler High School, according to the meeting documents.

In the second phase of the proposal, JCPS would add another seven officers to cover the remaining middle and high schools in January. By fall 2020, another 40 officers would be added to cover all schools and support elementary schools.

The entire proposal is expected to cost roughly $5 million: $287,000 for the first nine officers, $707,000 for the second set and $4 million in training and equipment for the last group.

Critics say officers do not make schools safer. Instead, they make schools less welcoming for students of color and perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline, they say. Activists and community members asked the school board to stop using SROs for months after resource officers escalated a fight at Jeffersontown High School in fall 2017.

Last summer, JCPS considered phasing out SROs and replacing them with an in-house security team. Unlike SROs, the security officers would be direct employees of JCPS, allowing for more accountability and oversight. That plan was indefinitely tabled last August.

Murphy said this proposal is “kind of like that” but has “evolved” over the past year due to new state law and LMPD’s budget cuts.

Senate Bill 1, which passed in March, outlines safety and security measures for schools spurred by a deadly school shooting in Marshall County in 2018. It requires at least one SRO in each school and a similar boost in mental health practitioners as funds and personnel become available.

JCPS announced it would put a mental health practitioner in every district middle and high school, plus one for every two elementary schools, in the 2019-20 school year. Murphy said the district is “in the process” of filling those roles.

Additionally, SB 1 sets standards for school and classroom access, create threat assessment teams in schools and requires suicide prevention and active shooter training for students.

JCPS already does suicide prevention training, but is reviewing its practices, the proposal said. Operations staff are looking at schools to ensure all access controls, like locking doors and buzzer systems, are in place. A threat assessment protocol and related training for school teams are being created.

This article has been updated to clarify when a final board vote could happen on the proposal.