BY KARISSA MILLER
All Iredell-Statesville Schools elementary schools will likely have full-time school resource officers on campus in time for the 2021-2022 school year.
During this week’s Board of Education meeting, board members voted to accept a SRO grant for about $233,300, which would enable the district to have full-time SROs at Sharon, Scotts, Cool Spring, Harmony, Shepherd, Lakeshore and Woodland Heights elementary schools. Currently, officers split their time between some of these schools.
While the grant funding is significant, district officials told the board that the grant will not fully fund all the SRO salaries. The typical salary for an SRO is around $55,000. Additionally, the grant doesn’t cover the cost of benefits or funding for a vehicle and other equipment.
Superintendent Jeff James told the board members that if they decided not to accept the grant, in his opinion, that they would be leaving free money on the table that could fund school safety.
Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell, who attended the meeting, voiced his support for accepting the SRO grant.
“I’m absolutely a supporter. I’m definitely a supporter of safe schools. Since 2014, (we’ve been) trying to get an SRO in every elementary schools,” Campbell said.
The ICSO has partnered with the district and funds a threat investigator (primarily for the schools), a mobile classroom, ballistic shields and other resources for school safety for I-SS.
“We are seven away from having every school covered,” Campbell told the board.
Last week at the Committee of the Whole meeting, a majority of the conversation among board members revolved around the cost and the board’s inability to sustain those SRO positions without additional funding in the future.
Further complicating matters, the board’s decision Monday to accept the grant could possibly cause a disagreement between the school board and county commissioners about who should pay for what.
The school board’s plan moving forward is to send a letter to county commissioners asking them to agree to fund the SRO positions once the grant runs out.
Adding another dimension to this topic is bracing for the reaction of parents if SRO positions are nixed from elementary schools in the future.
“We do have a fear that when the economy slows down that we might have to cut these positions out,” James explained.
In 2018, Iredell County voters rejected a proposal to implement a quarter-cents sales tax that would have created an additional revenue stream to fund SROs and other school safety measures.
There is a possibility that the school board could ask the county commissioners to put another sales tax referendum before voters in hopes that it would pass.
Additional grant-funded positions
Amid other budget challenges, the school board is starting early conversations about whether they can also sustain grant-funded school nurses, social workers and other positions related to student wellbeing and mental health.
The board has a total of 23 federal grant funded positions that will expire in September 2024. The salary and benefits of those positions total approximately $3.7 million.
“We have a three-legged stool. SROs are part of the stool, nurses and mental health counselors (are the others). We need all three pieces of that pie and one is not more important than the other,” Vice Chairman Todd Carver explained.
“They all three are providing a critical service at our schools,” he added.