More school resource officers could be added to ‘low wealth’ counties, pending approval of proposed N.C. budget

The proposed budget includes doubling the grant funding for school resource officers
Right now, Alexander County Schools has seven school resources officers between its high school, two middle schools, and success center.
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 7:37 PM EDT
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TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina lawmakers released the proposed budget for next year and more money could soon be on the way to help rural countries hire more school resource officers.

Dr. Jennifer Hefner is the Superintendent of Alexander County Schools. Her district has qualified for the state safety grant since the 2018-2019 school year.

The proposed budget was agreed on by House and Senate Republicans. It was released last week and includes a budget item dedicated to school resource officers.

According to the proposal, it would double the grant funds for “low wealth” counties.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction considers a county “low wealth” based on its anticipated revenue, tax base per square mile, and the average per capita income.

Alexander County Schools has twelve campuses which are its high school, early college, two middle schools, seven elementary schools, and its student success center.

The district has a total of six school resource officers, three from the Taylorsville Police Department and three from the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office.

The high school, early college, both middle schools, and success center has its own designated SRO, while two of the elementary schools, Hiddenite and Stony Point share an SRO.

“We have seven elementary schools and what that meant is that five would have no resource officer at all,” Hefner said.

If the budget passes, the state would increase its grant contribution to $4 for every $1 of non-state funds compared to the current $2 state contribution.

Alexander County has previously received $30,000 from the state and the school district contributes $15,000.

If the proposed budget passes both chambers and is approved by Governor Roy Cooper, Alexander County Schools would receive $60,000.

“I’m very grateful for the funding that we have received since the 2018-2019 school year,” Hefner said. “An increase makes me very excited but again I just want them to understand that even with the increases that is not enough funding to ensure we have an officer in every one of our schools.”

Hefner says the increase would support two SRO positions, which means some elementary schools would still have to share an SRO or not have one at all.

She says each school, not just in her district, but across the nation needs designated security to be proactive against threats.

“In this day and age seconds and minutes can mean the difference in life and death,” she said.

Qualifying school districts can use these funds to hire and train school resource officers for elementary and middle schools.

Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman agrees there is a need for more SROs.

“It’s better than none but I feel like that for the safety of the children, teachers, staff, all, there’s a big need for an SRO in every school,” Bowman said.

Three of his deputies serve in the school district and he has talked to the Superintendent about wanting to add more SROs. Both are hopeful for more funding and are thankful for their collaboration to protect everyone in the schools.

He says having SROs doesn’t just add a sense of security, but also builds trust between the students and SRO to share information and concerns.

“With the three SROs that we have now, that has been proven that the students that will come to them, that have bonded with them, confided in the officers, and they trust the officers,” Bowman said.

Bowman says he’s also planning to discuss the funding need with county commissioners.

“It’s going to take everybody working together, to come together to make this happen,” Bowman said.

Alexander County Schools also uses metal detectors, safety wands, and practices drills throughout the school year.

Hefner says she wants parents to know their focus on safety isn’t a reaction to recent events, but a continuous effort to keep their students and employees safe.

“School safety here, always, every day is our number one priority is that we have students and staff safe on our campuses,” she said.

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