NEW MANCHESTER - The cost of keeping two Hancock County sheriff's deputies walking the halls of Oak Glen Middle School and High School keeps going up.
Hancock County commissioners recently were awarded a $40,000 Justice Assistance Grant from the office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to help pay for the full-time officers. That sounds like good news, except that it's $60,000 less than what the county used to receive.
"A lot of grants have been dwindling over a number of years; this is just one that's taken a hit," Commissioner Jeff Davis said.
Commissioners now must look for a way to make up the difference if the officers, known as Prevention Resource Officers, are to maintain their presence in the schools.
"It's a good program," Sheriff Mike White said. "We want to keep them in the schools."
When the program started, the state grant was $100,000 and the county portion was $20,000, Davis said. In the 2010-11 school year, state assistance dropped to $80,000, increasing the county commitment to $40,000.
With the upcoming school year, and only $40,000 from the state, the county must come up with $80,000.
Davis said county commissioners are able to contribute $50,000 from the general fund. White said he has talked to Hancock County Schools Superintendent Suzan Smith about making up the difference. The school board is expected to address the matter at tonight's regular meeting.
"The whole community benefits from having the PRO officers in the schools," Davis said.
White said the PRO officers - two sheriff's deputies at Oak Glen and two Weirton police officers at Weir Middle School and High School - teach classes, investigate crimes and help with conflict mediation and resolution.
"They stop a lot of things before they get out of hand," White said.
Davis said the officers provide other services, too, such as helping with security at sporting events.
"They're officers that students and teachers can talk to throughout the day. ... I think they're essential to have in the school system nowadays," he said.
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