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Brooke County officials seek meeting on prevention resource officers

RESOURCE OFFICERS DISCUSSED — Brooke County commissioners said Tuesday they will seek a meeting with local school officials to resolve funding issues for the school district’s resource officers. (Photo by Warren Scott)

WELLSBURG — Brooke County commissioners said Tuesday they will seek a meeting with local school officials to discuss funding for the county’s school resource officers.

The commissioners said attorneys with Frankovitch, Anetakis, Simon, Decapio and Pearl drew up an alternative agreement for the officers after they and school officials weren’t able to agree on a proposed contract for the five sheriff’s deputies assigned to schools.

The school board had sought for the officers’ pay to be pro-rated based on the time they spend in schools.

The proposal came as school officials planned for students to return to school two days a week, with online learning slated for the other three days.

County Commissioner A.J. Thomas said the new contract proposed duties the officers could perform outside schools, such as delivering meals to students, as they had done during the recent lockdown; performing welfare checks on students and patrolling playgrounds.

But Thomas said school officials had issues with the proposal.

Commission President Tim Ennis said he and the other commissioners hope to meet with school officials personally at 1 p.m. Friday.

He said it will be done in executive session because it involves a personnel matter.

“We’re willing to meet with them at any time to work out these issues,” Ennis said, adding, “Let’s work this out before the school year starts.”

The commissioners have said they don’t have the $450,000 allocated for the five positions.

They said the five were assigned to schools at the request of school officials who two years ago said they would be funded entirely by the school district’s five-year operating levy.

Of the five deputies, one was serving as a resource officer at the time of the agreement while the four others were hired and trained specifically for that purpose.

A Wellsburg police officer also serves at Brooke Middle School through a jurisdictional agreement with the sheriff’s department.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said funding the deputies would amount to double taxation because funds for them were earmarked in the levy.

But school officials have since discovered a $3.2 million-per-year shortfall in the levy that has been blamed on former staff. It has resulted in their cutting more than 40 staff members and suspending $2.6 million in stipends promised to staff.

Some school officials have argued the levy doesn’t state how many officers would be funded and that the deputies could be replaced with security guards trained to serve in that capacity.

Thomas said the planned assignment of law enforcement officers to each school was used to encourage public support for the levy and was vital to its passage.

“The taxpayers have said they want resource officers in the schools,” he said.

Called for comment, school board President Ted Pauls said, “I fully expect that we will meet with them Friday.”

Pauls said he couldn’t speak for all board members, but he believes all of the schools should be served by an officer, though it’s not clear whether that will be a law enforcement officer or trained security guard.

“I think we should provide equal security to all of the schools,” he said.

In other business:

¯ April Eltringham, community wellness coordinator for the county’s health department, reminded everyone free drive-through and walk-up COVID-19 testing will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Bethany College’s Hummel Field House, 6288 Main St.

Eltringham said organizers are expecting a large turnout, as about 500 Bethany College students are returning to the campus.

The college has issued many guidelines for preventing spread of the coronavirus, including the requirement of wearing a mask while with others unless documentation of certain health conditions is presented.

The testing is available to anyone, with participants asked to wear a mask and bring identification. Those with questions may call (304) 737-3665.

¯ The commissioners reflected on the recent deaths of Cindy Hoffman, who served as Bethany town clerk for 20 years and Millie Ferry, a Brooke County educator for 40 years.

Ennis and County Clerk Kim Barbetta noted in addition to representing Bethany at many meetings, Hoffman, who was 78, served as a poll worker and supply commissioner for the county elections office.

“She was very civic minded, loved Bethany and loved Brooke County. We’re definitely going to miss her presence and dedication,” Ennis said.

Thomas said Ferry, who was 103, taught both him and his father. She taught at the former Bethany and Beech Bottom primary schools and was principal at the former Carver School and volunteered at Bethany College’s Alexander Campbell Mansion.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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