Starting this fall, all Fort Mill schools will have their own or a shared resource officer or private security guard on campus.
The school board approved contracts this week with Fort Mill police to provide six resource officers and with Tega Cay police to provide one resource officer. The board also hired Defender Services of Columbia to provide four security guards at a cost of about $140,000 per year.
The district will pay 60 percent of the cost for the Fort Mill and Tega Cay officers.
“Small differences based on their billing cycles, but essentially they’re the same contracts,” schools spokeswoman Kelly McKinney said.
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Fort Mill will add a resource officer position at Pleasant Knoll Elementary School, with that officer assigned to Pleasant Knoll Middle School the following year and beyond. Initially, that officer will assist with the private security officers.
Pleasant Knoll Middle is set to open for the 2017-18 school year.
The four elementary schools without a middle school on the same campus — Doby’s Bridge, Riverview, Orchard Park and Tega Cay — will have private security.
The latest contracts came amid efforts to provide security throughout the district, not just at middle and high schools, where resource officers serve during the school year. The district had informal agreements with Fort Mill and Tega Cay, with the district and departments each paying about half the costs.
When the district began looking to add security for elementary schools, district and municipal leaders met to better define roles.
“There needs to be some type of contract agreement,” school board Chairman Patrick White said.
Fort Mill partnered with five resource officers prior to Tuesday’s votes, Tega Cay one. With salary and benefits, a resource officer position can incur significant costs and must be a trained officer of whatever department provides the position.
That level of training isn’t needed at elementary schools, officials say.
“We just don’t see those types of issues at the elementary level,” White said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had to arrest a K-5 student.”
Hiring private security means the local police departments don’t have to hire additional officers to cover elementary schools.
“Primarily, it’s a financial issue,” White said. “To pick up five of those (positions), you simply can’t go from five to having 10 overnight.”
The move to add private security is an addition to partnerships with local police, school officials say, not an attempt to replace them. All middle and high schools will maintain the local police presence.
“We definitely will continue to keep (resource officers) at that level,” McKinney said.
Because the private arrangement is new, some details remain to be worked out. One of the four positions will oversee the other three, but details haven’t been finalized on what extra roles might be included. Resource officers, for instance, direct traffic or help in car drop-off lines at times.
“They will be kind of treated as a staff member,” McKinney said of the private security. “Since this is a little new, we’ll definitely be looking at it to see what makes sense.”
The school board voted unanimously on the contracts.
“This is an excellent opportunity to provide additional security at our elementary schools,” board member Tom Audette said.
Board member Scott Patterson noted the biggest benefit comes to students.
“Anything for our kids, to keep them safe, is a win,” he said.
John McCarter Jr., president and CEO of Defender Services, said the company has been in business almost four decades and most of its personnel have law enforcement backgrounds.
“We go to extreme measures to try to get the right people,” McCarter said. “We’re not doing minimum wage security.
“It has to be a collaboration...if not, it’s not going to work. We don’t want to be a vendor. We want to be a partner.”
Correspondent Kelly Lessard contributed.