SANDPOINT — When the Lake Pend Oreille school district advertised for open teaching positions this year, it added a new employee category: armed security officer (ASO).
The district’s two new ASOs are not school resource officers contracted with the local police department; they are state employees hired directly by the district. Both ASOs are trained and certified with firearms and responsible for protecting employees and students from external and internal threats.
“We need to stop bad things from happening, faster and quicker,” said ASO JD McElroy. “And hopefully we never have to get to that end result.”
McElroy believes his positive interaction with students is an important aspect of his daily job. Tactically trained for crisis response and an expert marksman, he finds great satisfaction mentoring young people.
McElroy was preparing to become a police officer when he found the job. Rather than issuing tickets and enforcing the laws of Sandpoint and surrounding communities, he’s helping young people understand the impact of their decisions.
“I worked with convicted felons (as a corrections officer) my entire career, and seeing what happens at the end, my take on this whole thing is just being able to help them out at a younger age and hopefully be that bright light that makes them change,” he said.
Lake Pend superintendent Becky Meyer said her intention is not to replace their successful school resource officer program but to supplement it. With ASOs, their work schedule can coincide with the district’s, so they’re training with firearms, for example, while teachers participate in a professional development day.
“When you have an SRO, their training is based on their calendar, not the school’s,” Meyer said. “Having more latitude is a better use of taxpayer dollars.”
It’s been quiet around the Sandpoint High School campus: security checks, maintaining a closed campus and looking for vaping violations. “For the most part, it’s been pretty relaxed,” McElroy said.
Nearly all school districts that provide armed security do so by contracting with local enforcement or security companies, meaning they are not employees of the school district.
About six years ago, Meyer started the program at Lakeland school district in Rathdrum, the first to implement the ASO model.
“If you build relationships with kids and have someone they can talk to, that averts acts of violence,” she said.
A Marine and law enforcement veteran, ASO Keith Delahanty supports the superintendent’s vision.
“My approach is seeking understanding, finding solutions and creating a safe environment. My purpose is to build positive relationships with staff, families, students, and our community,” Delahanty said.
Delahanty covers the eastern region, including Hope Elementary and Clark Fork Junior and Senior High School. Next year, Meyer plans to add one more ASO to cover the southern elementary schools, bringing the total to three ASOs and one armed resource officer.
ASO pay is roughly the same as a beginning law enforcement officer. When requested, they’re responsible for working at extracurricular after-school events. But because of their flexible schedule, there’s no overtime. Much of their salary comes from the permanent levy. The other source is the Safe and Drug Free Schools program.