Schools in SC look to retired officers to fill SRO void

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina schools are struggling against a staff shortage. Not only are there vacancies for teachers, where thousands are exiting classrooms, but many schools go without one full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) to keep students safe.

"Sometimes, you know, it only takes a split second for something to happen," Fairfield Elementary School Principal Dr. Tammy Martin said. "I just think it gives us a certain comfort knowing that we have somebody here."

Martin hopes to soon have one officer patrolling her school's halls.

Martin is finding it's not as easy as just hiring more. She claims her school district is working to hire an officer but explains there's a shortage in the pool of eligible employees. The simple answer on how to attract more to the workforce: money. However, that's a need politicians in the State House who control the state's purse strings would have to fill.

Martin is also urging those politicians to ease retirement rules, joining the voices of retirees who hope the salary cap of $10,000 for retirees who return to work can be lifted.

Not only does she hope that can be done for police officers, but also for teachers.

"Our mission here at Fairfield Elementary is to educate, excite, and engage. How are we going to do that if we don't have the qualified staff members?" Martin asked.

In South Carolina last year, one CERRA (Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement) supply and demand study shows, nearly 5,000 teachers left their jobs in public schools.

Lawmakers are considering a proviso in next year's state budget bill that would end the salary cap for retirees who return to work. Jarrod Bruder with the SC Sheriffs Association says it would bring 1,600 police officers and firefighters back into the workforce and about 1,150 teachers by giving them the incentive to make more money while also keeping their retirement benefits.

"So, there's a lot of critical needs positions in the state that are vacant. Services the state provides are lacking. They are going undone in some cases. So, the hope is that we can get these key positions filled with those that have retired and are willing to come back and work again," Bruder said.

Teacher Cheryl Stover is one who's retired, works at Fairfield Elementary, and faces no cap; that's because the school is in a district that meets the economic requirement of being exempt from the rule. She says she's a testament of how much more retirees still have to give.

"The students are the ones who are missing out," Stover said. "I tell them all the time, I'm ready to run circles around some of these young folk."

Meanwhile, politicians are planning to pay some state dollars to hire resource officers, but they disagree on how much. Some say $2 million, while the governor wants $5 million. The budget talks continue over the next few days.

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