RAVENNA, Ohio -- Parents and school leaders in Portage County say they are shocked and disappointed by Sheriff David Doak's decision to re-assign two Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officers who work with students at schools across the county.
In the Southeast School District, outside of Ravenna, the officers have been instrumental in dealing with two of the major issues facing districts today -- school violence and drug abuse.
Superintendent Bob Dunn told Fox 8, "The research shows the earlier you can get that information to the students, the better you have to keep them away from making those poor decisions. So, we feel that they've been very impactful, and that they have helped keep our kids away from some of those violent behaviors and some of those drug abuse situations."
Dunn says he was surprised to learn that as a result of a $350,000 budget deficit, the sheriff's department is laying off nine deputies and the two DARE officers are being removed from the schools and re-assigned to other duties.
"They were involved, deeply involved in our internal safety committee. They would come out to our schools at any point that we had a concern or a threat; so we miss that partnership, and that ability to call somebody that was familiar with our school district -- familiar with our kids -- and get them out here on a moment's notice," said Dunn.
Sheriff Doak told the school districts that he's being squeezed by budget cuts, and that the DARE officers are needed for mandated functions such as operating the jail and providing security at the county courthouse.
Doak told Fox 8, "One of the worst times I had since I've been in office, I mean when you start laying off people in safety forces, that's not good."
The sheriff says cuts in local funding and the strain that the drug epidemic has put on operations like the county jail, have forced him to make tough decisions like reassigning the DARE officers to more pressing duties.
“I have to somehow put people on the road to protect the citizens; and, you know, it's nice when we can do those sort of things and have programs like that, but you know, the reality is those are going to go away," said Doak.
But educators believe the county is compromising the health and safety of students.
"I hope that they can remember that students are at the forefront of our business and I hope it's at the forefront of their business -- safety certainly -- so I hope that they will reconsider this decision," said Bob Dunn.