Changes are set to come to Columbia County schools this Fall. The Board of Education voted on Tuesday to hire more armed school safety officers, as well as more special education professionals.

Each of the county’s 31 school buildings will be guarded by an armed school safety officer. The board approved the hire 23 officers, up from the ten they have now.

“Of course, every time there is a tragic event like in Florida, it causes us to consider what we do to provide a safe, positive environment for our students,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sandra Carraway. “So yes, this is in response to our recognized need that society has changed.”

The additional positions will cost about $1.1 million, plus about $11,000 or $12,000 per officer for their arms and other things they need.

The county is not just hiring anyone off the street. Dr. Carraway says the officers are required to have at least five years of law enforcement experience.

“Our officers, while they don’t act as deputies or police officers, they have all of the training, all of the skills, all of the knowledge and experience that our police officers do,” she said.

So who’s paying for this? Columbia County Board of Education Chairman David Dekle tells NewsChannel 6 they’re hoping to receive more money from the state, but they’re also expecting to pay for the officers with an increase in the county’s tax digest, as well as cost savings in other areas.

In another move, the Board of Education voted to increase certified trained staff, while reducing the number of paraprofessionals in elementary schools. Paraprofessionals help teachers with things like lunchroom and car duty, as well as helping kids who may be falling behind.

The trade-off came to keep the move budget-neutral. But Dr. Carraway says it’s actually a win-win because students will receive more specialized resources and no paraprofessionals will lose their job. 

The district is expecting the natural turnover rate, as well as about two dozen current vacant positions, to make the transition smooth.

“Paraprofessionals are wonderful resources for our schools, and we certainly value them,” Dr. Carraway said. “But when we’re seeking to meet the needs of our learners, especially learners who struggle particularly in the area of reading and mathematics, we recognize that there are times when having a trained, certified teacher in that position, working with those children is of a greater benefit to our neediest learners.”

After reductions, the system will still have about 70 paraprofessionals.