LIVINGSTON – A plan for a half-cent sales tax to fund resource officers at schools across Livingston Parish cleared one more hurdle Tuesday.
The Livingston Parish Law Enforcement District approved a measure that will bring proposal to voters on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The three members – Sheriff Jason Ard, Chief Financial Officer Jamie Felder and Chief Deputy Ronald Morse – all voted for the proposal.
“Being the chief law enforcement officer in the parish and also being a father, it’s a big thing for me to keep our schools safe,” Ard said. “Putting law enforcement in every school is going to be a big task and it’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to cost a lot of money, but it’s a step toward guaranteeing all schools are safe.”
Ard estimated it will take 50 resource officers to cover the entire school system. Only seven oversee the system across the parish today.
The proposal came into play Livingston Parish School Superintendent Rick Wentzel approached Ard about the proposal in the wake of several school shootings, including a Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead.
“The circumstances dictated we needed to do something to make the schools safer,” Wentzel said. “We’ve been working the last couple of years to add resource officers, but we have 45 sites and only seven officers, so I think the best solution is to put an armed guard in every school.”
It would cost $110,000 to train, outfit and train each officer, or 5.5 million. The current starting salary for beginning deputies is $30,000, Ard said.
Any remaining money would go to hire additional officers for the force, but a sales tax does not bring a guaranteed amount, he said
“You can never predict what you’re going to get from a sales tax,” Ard said. “It’s gone down this year, but we’re taking a conservative approach on this.”
Police departments in the cities of Denham Springs and Walker have opted to oversee the schools in their respective municipalities, Ard said.
“All the other areas would use our resource officers because those police departments don’t have a big enough staff to do that,” he said.
Morse said the proposal represents a far cry from the day he entered law enforcement 48 years ago.
“A school used to be the ultimate safe haven, but now we may get one or two calls per month about a disturbance on a campus,” he said. “The times have changed.”