This post has been updated to clarify the open records request was fulfilled by Marshall County Schools.
A school district that experienced a deadly high school shooting in 2018 is prevented from seeking a federal grant to hire school resource officers (SROs) after the county’s chief executive declined to sign the grant application.
The Marshall County Board of Education, in partnership with the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, began the process earlier this year to seek a grant from the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program in the U.S. Department of Justice. The COPS office partners with state and local governments to advance community policing by providing research-based information and federal grant dollars.
The funding sought by school and law enforcement officials would have partially paid for three new SROs in the school district. Eight SROs are currently deployed throughout the school system, including three at Marshall County High School. South Marshall Middle School and North Marshall Middle School each have one officer, leaving the district’s six elementary schools to share the remaining three SROs. The new officers would have allowed the placement of at least one SRO in each of the elementary schools.
The grant application called for federal funds to be supplemented by the sheriff’s office and the board of education. The total value of the grant would have exceeded $350,000 over the three-year period of administration. In the upcoming fiscal year, the sheriff’s office would have been responsible for paying approximately $30,000 as their part of the cost-share.
To submit the grant application, the signature of county Judge/Executive Kevin Neal was required. According to open records obtained by WKMS and fulfilled by Marshall County Schools, Sheriff Eddie McGuire met with Neal on March 11 to present the proposed grant with the goal of obtaining his signature. Citing the uncertainty of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, Neal declined to sign the application.
The Marshall County Fiscal Court did not weigh in on the grant in an official capacity, but the matter was discussed at the court’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday. Second District Commissioner Kevin Spraggs said he spoke with Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett before questioning Neal about the grant during the court’s meeting. Neal said finding $30,000 to fund the SRO positions would be impossible given the budget situation.
“You’ve had the budget since the 9th. Have you looked at that budget?” Neal asked Spraggs.
Neal said the issue is not one of school safety, but of the county’s financial constraints. In 2018, less than five months after the deadly shooting at the high school, Neal agreed to enter the county into a cost-sharing agreement with the school board. That agreement is still in effect and provides county dollars for SROs hired shortly after the shooting. The school pays the costs of the officers during the school year, which is approximately 175 days per year; the county foots the bill for the officers during school breaks.
Despite the county funds supporting school law enforcement officers as part of the 2018 agreement, Neal said Tuesday the county is not obligated to fund safety operations for the school district.
“It’s not the Fiscal Court’s responsibility to provide security for the school,” Neal explained.
McGuire disagreed. He said Neal was putting a price on the safety of Marshall County’s children.
“As the leader of this county, where’s your moral responsibility?” McGuire asked Neal. “I think there’s a lot of people that would say this does have to do with our moral compass.”
McGuire said the county will not be able to hire additional SROs without the grant funding.
“With the projections of the rest of that budget meeting, we’ll be fighting just to stay even,” McGuire told WKMS.
McGuire said he has to cut $200,000 from the sheriff’s office budget for the upcoming fiscal year. This comes after receiving a budget reduction in the last fiscal year.
Even with cuts coming to his own department, McGuire said he “absolutely” believes there was room in the proposed county budget to fund the $30,000 county share of the COPS grant. He singled out the parks budget, which he said is slated to receive almost $800,000 in the coming fiscal year, as a potential area for reduction.
“When you’re trying to take care of the four corners of county government, your public safety should be up there next to the electric bill or the food on the table if you’re a family. The park is kind of like we’re making the four wheeler payment before we’re paying the utilities,” he said.
McGuire said the window to apply for the COPS grant funds is closed until next year.
The proposed fiscal year 2021 budget also reportedly features increases for some county employees, including treasurer’s office staff. Spraggs mentioned the raises to Neal during the court meeting as a potential expenditure that could have covered the county’s portion of the COPS grant.
“You just gave out $30,000 in raises at the last meeting. Are you kidding me?” Spraggs said to Neal.
The proposed increase would provide an additional $16,780 for Marshall County Treasurer Erica West whose salary was scheduled at $56,900. County Finance Officer Desiree Hermosillo would receive $11,560 in addition to her $39,200 annual salary. The combined proposed increase for the two employees totals $28,340.
Neal defended the proposed measure saying the word “raise” was misleading. He said instead of hiring a third employee to fill the vacant occupational tax administrator position, West and Hermosillo were absorbing those duties. He went on to say the move would result in an estimated $25,000 savings for the county by not having to pay a third employee’s benefits package.
The county budget must be passed by the Fiscal Court before being sent for approval by the Kentucky Department for Local Government. The Marshall County Fiscal Court meets in regular session on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 9:30 a.m. Meetings are live streamed on their Facebook page.
Rachel Collins contributed to this report.