MOUNT VERNON — Just as the new school year is about to begin, Knox County Sheriff David Barber has informed the schools that the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program will be absent from county classrooms this fall.
“It is with much regret,” Barber said, “that I must announce that the office of the Knox County Sheriff will be unable to provide the DARE program in any schools in Knox County, including Mount Vernon, for the 2009-10 school year.”
For more than 15 years, DARE deputies have provided substance abuse and violence resistance training to elementary, middle and high school students throughout Knox County, including students at Seventh-day Adventist Elementary and St. Vincent de Paul School. Barber told the News on Tuesday that although the deputies interact with and provide positive role models to thousands of youths each year, the budget reductions mandated by the county commissioners forced him to make operational changes and restructure the sheriff’s office.
Part of that restructuring means DARE deputies Scott Baker and Chuck Statler have been assigned to the Patrol Division until further notice. Barber said Baker and Statler, as well as the administrative staff, were involved in the discussions about how the sheriff’s office could stay within what’s left of this year’s budget without laying anyone off or incurring overtime costs, and still have the deputies available to respond to calls for service.
“We simply can’t pay any overtime,” Barber said. “We reassigned Chuck and Scott to the Patrol Division so the current Patrol Division people have the ability to take some time off without us having to pay overtime for their shift coverage.”
Barber said the department did consider whether DARE could be done on a part-time basis.
“It didn’t seem that would be real feasible because of the school schedules — class schedules are so tight right now,” Barber explained. “One of the other things is, we are losing the opportunity to have funding from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Ever since DARE started, we have received funding from the Attorney General’s Office. We are not applying for that this year, because you can’t use that money for anything except the DARE officer’s salary and benefits during the nine-month school year. Since they are not performing DARE functions this upcoming school year, we cannot apply for those funds.”
Barber said the awards for the 2009-10 DARE essay winners will still be given out, and Statler and Baker will maintain their training and certification as DARE officers.
“What we’ve accomplished over the years is way too important to just let it disappear,” Barber said. “This is a temporary set back, we hope.”
In addition to the DARE deputies, other personnel have been affected by the budget cuts. Community Relations Officer Dan Selby has been reassigned to the jail, and every employee will take a minimum of seven unpaid furlough days between now and the end of the year.
“We’ve also cut back the secretaries and jail cooks,” Barber said. “They are now on a 35-hour week. They did work 40. They are actually taking a double hit. They are losing an hour a day, plus they are giving up at least seven furlough days. It is all to meet the primary goal to stay within the budget we have left. ... We are trying to weather the storm the best we can.”
In spite of the restructuring and county budget constraints, Barber said, law enforcement personnel will continue to provide security in non-patrol functions. The uniformed deputies one sees providing security at school dances and ballgames, he said, are not funded through the sheriff’s office. It is accomplished through a private arrangement between off-duty officers and the school.