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An SRO officer from the Houston County Sheriff's Department is parked out in front of Rehobeth High School during the first day of school in August.

In an effort to ensure students remain safe, Houston County Schools officials have requested the county hire two more deputies to patrol their schools.

HCS Superintendent David Sewell presented the request to the Houston County Commission Thursday during the commission’s administrative meeting. Last year the county and the school system shared the cost of employing five school resource officers, and Sewell wants to continue the same agreement with two additional deputies included.

If the commission approves the proposed arrangement Monday, the number of SROs the county employs will be nine since two were already in place before last year’s agreement. The new officers would serve in Rehobeth and Ashford and would give the Houston County Schools system nine SROs for its 10 schools, Sewell said.

The only SRO that would cover two schools would be the one slotted for the Rehobeth Elementary and Rehobeth Middle schools, which are next to each other, Sewell added.

The original agreement was supposed to last one year until officials obtained other funding sources for the positions. Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver said those funds have hit “legislative roadblocks” and have not materialized yet.

In the interim, school officials have agreed to use some of the county’s annual allocation to the schools to pay for their share of the officers’ employment costs – about $145,000. School officials said they would like to proceed with the current payment arrangement for the next year.

While on its face the request would alter the county’s current budget since the additional positions were not included, Maj. Bill Rafferty of the Houston County Sheriff’s Office said his department could cover the difference – about $15,000 – until the beginning of the next fiscal year. The county will begin budget planning for the 2020 fiscal year on Monday and could include the new request at that time.

Rafferty said his department has interviewed candidates for the additional spots already in an effort to employ them by the time county schools begin on Aug. 1. When schools are not in session, the SROs serve in other roles with the sheriff’s office, Rafferty added.

“It’s a win-win for both the county and the school system,” Sewell said. “These officers are used all year long.”

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