MADISON — Although everyone appears to think it is a good program, the position of a sheriff’s deputy position assigned to Sherman High School stood to be eliminated Tuesday, July 1.
That date marks the beginning of another fiscal year in Boone County. West Virginia’s governmental budget year runs from July 1 to June 30 and positions are generally funded according to that calendar.
According to Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Barker, Sgt. Billy Browning was to be reassigned to road duty on Tuesday. For the past three years, Browning has been working at Sherman High as the law enforcement representative. In that role, Browning was regularly at the school and traveled with sports teams to games. Most recently, he was in Vienna with the Sherman softball team at the state tournament.
A concerned SHS parent initially brought the potential loss of Browning to the newspaper’s attention. At the time, all officials questioned said they support Browning and the job he has done at Sherman. All parties expressed an interest in continuing his role. During the past three years, the position has been partially funded by a federal grant. That grant, however, was set to expire Tuesday.
Barker said he and Sheriff Randall White “totally support the program. We think it has been great for Sherman High.” But funding cannot be found to continue the position, he said.
Parents from Sherman who attended the games in Vienna said Browning had helped “cut down on the drug problem” while patrolling the school. They also said his presence “is a positive influence on our kids.”
Barker agreed. “Nobody has anything but praise for Sgt. Browning and the job he’s done,” said the chief. “We just need funds to pay for it.”
While the county administrator was out of town last week, as was County Commissioner Eddie Hendricks, a spokeswoman for the commission said the three commission members feel the same. “They like the program and they wish there was money to fund it,” she told a reporter last week.
Barker mentioned that “funding is down” in Boone County because of the downturn in the coal economy.
“Nobody’s at fault here,” he said. “The grant was just for three years and now it has expired. There’s nothing anyone can do about that.”
Some parents have lobbied the county school board not only to continue the Sherman program, but to expand it to the county’s other high schools, middle schools and elementary schools as well.
“The school board is hurting for money, just like everybody else,” Barker explained.
For now, then, White’s plan is to return Browning to regular duties within the department.
“Attrition will take care of that,” Barker explained. “We just don’t have the money to hire someone just for Sherman.”
Many school boards have worked with other agencies to provide a designated police officer for schools. Although there has been some debate at the national level as to the effectiveness and cost situation regarding that plan, most school administrators have insisted crime has gone down among student bodies when a regular police presence is maintained.
A Sherman parent at Vienna told a reporter, “there is no way the drug problem is as bad when everyone knows there’s a cop in the building and he’s going to be watching.”
In Vienna, Browning told a reporter that he had “no idea” what was happening with the position.
“I just do my job, whatever I’m assigned to,” the sergeant said at the time.
Barker and others still hold out some hope outside funding will be found for the position.
“We sure aren’t saying it is eliminated for good,” the chief explained. “If somebody found a grant or something, I’m sure we’d be glad to take it.”