Green Forest eyes second officer for student safety

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

GREEN FOREST -- Sandy Hook casts a long shadow. The December massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., touched off a national debate on gun legislation and school safety.

As politicians in Little Rock and on Capitol Hill continue to hash out solutions, school administrators in Green Forest are quietly considering what they can do to make area schools more secure.

Superintendent Matt Summers announced at a school board meeting last Monday that district officials were considering hiring a second resource officer to patrol school grounds.

As it is, Green Forest Police Department Sgt. Gaylon Riggs is solely responsible for patrolling the school's twin campuses. If the school board follows through with the superintendent's proposal, however, each campus would have its own dedicated officer.

Board members spoken with seemed hospitable to that idea.

"On some days, (the work) is more than one person can handle," board member Jerry Carlton said.

Carlton added that there had been talk of hiring a second officer in the past, but the tragedy had leant urgency to the discussion.

Carlton said his own research led him to believe that school districts of comparable size to Green Forest usually had more than one officer.

Board member John Bailey, who is also the city's police chief, said he supported expanding security for schools.

However, he maintained it was not so much a reaction to a pressing need, as it was about being "proactive," to hopefully prevent something like what happened in Newtown from recurring here.

Still, the proposal is far from "a done deal," board member Jerry King said.

Chief among administrator's concerns is the question of how to fund another officer, a question Bailey called "critical."

He noted the city currently funds half Riggs' salary. Bailey said he expected a similar arrangement of any additional officers.

Recognizing this, and the city of Green Forest's precarious financial condition, Bailey said the district would likely have to seek out grants to fund the additional officer. He added that it was state aid that helped fund the first few years of the existing position.

Despite the financial hurdles that lay ahead, Bailey said it was important to at least begin discussion.

"You've got to start with a goal first," he said.

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