Livingston Parish sheriff proposes sales tax increase to increase school safety

LIVINGSTON PARISH, LA (AP) - Livingston Parish law enforcement and school leaders have come up with a plan to increase safety at schools. The proposal includes putting a student resource officer at every public school. It would be funded by a half cent sales tax.

Fifth graders at Gray's Creek Elementary School in Denham Springs are joining students across the country who are graduating from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. The students get to shake hands with the sheriff and the officers who taught them the course. One of them, Deputy Burley McCarter, is quite familiar to the kids. That's because he is the school resource officer.

"I tell the kids, you come to school and do your job and I will do my job and keep you safe," McCarter said.

Principal Melissa Dougherty says she notices a difference in her students when deputy McCarter visits. It makes them feel a little safer, but they also consider him their pal.

"It's a wonderful resource. We refer to him. He's visible. He's a friend to the students. He has lunch with them, and I think it's important that our kids see the police as a friend," Dougherty said.

But McCarter is not there every day. Dougherty shares him with seven other schools. That means his time there is limited. Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard says seven of his deputies are assigned to 46 schools across the parish, and that can be a burden.

"They might be at the high school and have something go down at the elementary school and have to leave to go there and leave the high school unattended," Ard said.

Ard says he and school leaders have been looking at several options to help make their school safer, including the possibility of arming teachers, but he says that route is not practical.

"When my deputy goes to that school, he is trained to go into the school, find the problem, identify the problem, and take the problem out. You're asking for an accident. How is he going to know that guy with a gun is a teacher?" Ard said.

The best solution, Ard says would be to have a deputy assigned to each school, the cost of which would be around $5.5 million. The sheriff says he and the school system do not have enough money in their budgets, so parish leaders are proposing a half cent sales tax to help pay for the salaries, training, and equipment it would take to make it happen.

"They will have to go through student resource training, regular training, and mandated to do SWAT-type training. We want them to be ready for anything that is presented to them," Ard said.

The sheriff says the deputies must also have the right personality for the job. Deputy McCarter knows a thing or two about interacting with little ones, but their principal says her students know he is trained to do a whole lot more.

"He is here for their safety and they know it," Dougherty said.

The sales tax proposal will be on the November 6 ballot. If it passes, the sheriff hopes to have at least 20 deputies ready and assigned to schools the following school year.

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