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School Resource Officer Contract Issues Vex Ohio County Sheriff

Photo by Joselyn King Ohio County Sheriff Tom Howard answers questions from county board of education members pertaining to prevention resource officers being placed by his department at Wheeling Park High School and elementary schools in the county.

WHEELING — Staff and students in Ohio County Schools returned to their school buildings Tuesday, but sheriff’s deputies stationed at several schools did not, county commissioners learned Tuesday night.

The contract between the school district and the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department expired July 1, 2020, and a new one has not been finalized, Sheriff Tom Howard explained. Discussions have been ongoing between the school district and the county government. Ohio County Board of Education President David Croft and County Solicitor Don Tennant have been working on the contract.

Howard voiced his frustrations Tuesday night over what he said was a lack of communication with his department.

“As of late I have had no contact at all from the school district… about any of this,” Howard said. “We’ve made cold calls about this to no avail. This has been in discussion for over six months going on seven, and it has not been worked out at all… I have been diligently putting guys there (in the schools), and nothing has been accomplished.”

Howard and Chief Deputy John Schultz are both former prevention resource officers with Ohio County Schools.

Prevention resource officers, or PROs, are assigned to schools to provide safer environments and mentor students.

The sheriff’s department puts two PROs at Wheeling Park High School, one at Warwood School, one at Middle Creek Elementary and one at Madison Elementary, while another deputy serves as PRO at Woodsdale and West Liberty elementary schools.

The Wheeling Police Department provides PROs to Triadelphia, Bridge Street and Wheeling middle schools. A separate contract already has been agreed upon by Wheeling Police and Ohio County Schools.

Howard said the sheriff’s department’s PROs were not at school Tuesday because he could not get an answer to whether or not the school district was up to date in paying its share of the cost for the deputies, who are mostly funded through a federal grant. He has been informed the check has been written.

Howard said the school district also wants more say in where to assign the deputies than he is willing to give.

Tennant explained to board members what the board of education wants changed in the contract that has been approved in past years.

First, the board wants to reduce the number of deputies provided by the county to the school district from six to five officers. The board also does not want the responsibility of paying its share of the deputies’ salaries during the summer months when school is not in session.

Lastly, the school district wants the discretion to reassign the deputies in the event of an emergency. This doesn’t sit well with Howard, who said he “knows more where the emergencies are” before the board of education and made adjustments.

“If I do not have (a) say in this contract, I will not assign guys there,” Howard said. “The contract I saw the last time basically said the janitor can give them orders. I’m sorry, but that is not going to happen.”

Commissioner Zach Abraham, former board of education president, suggested Howard and Tennant contact Croft and work together to achieve the best possible outcome.

“I don’t think it’s fair to anyone to have a non-contract in place,” Abraham said. “I would hope there would be some flexibility.”

He told Howard he didn’t disagree with him wanting control over his deputies, but he suggested a line of communication be established.

Ohio County Schools Superintendent Kim Miller said via text that the school district is working on achieving a contract with the sheriff’s department.

“We are surprised they did not show up as expected,” she said late Tuesday night. “We are working in good faith with the county to finish the contract.”

Howard said after Tuesday night’s meeting that his deputies would return “immediately” after the county and the school district iron out their issues. He would like clearer avenues of communication.

“If they would have called last week and said they wanted us here (Tuesday), they would have been there (Tuesday),” he said. “I want a PRO at every school.”

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