For four years, a Mount Airy campus has been without a school resource officer. But that’s about to change.
The city board of commissioners voted unanimously during a meeting Thursday night to assign an SRO to Mount Airy Middle School to meet what officials consider a critical need among an impressionable age group. An existing city police officer will serve in that capacity for the next semester, while officials explore ways to fund the position on a permanent basis.
Along with being on hand to address any violent or other incidents that arise, school resource officers tend to serve as mentors for students and build a rapport with young people which puts law enforcement in a positive light.
“I just want us to do right by our children,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said during Thursday night’s meeting, when a lengthy discussion was held on the SRO issue for which Cawley has been leading the push.
Mount Airy Middle School did have a full-time officer until December 2008, when the SRO was phased out because of funding cuts mandated by the state government. The city school board was faced with the choice of eliminating the SRO or cutting classroom funds.
“I think it’s a choice the school board had to make,” Cawley said. “I don’t fault them in any way for that.”
Cawley acknowledged Thursday night that he does have a personal interest in the situation involving one of his children, but said, “this is not about me having a son at the middle school.”
Added Cawley, who also is an assistant football coach at Mount Airy High, “I happen to be around the schools more than some of you (other commissioners), and I know that this is needed,” he said of the SRO at the middle school. The high school does have a full-time officer on campus full-time.
Middle school students, who cover the 11-14 age range, are at a crossroads in life, Cawley said, and now lack what he termed an officer “who is an advocate for their well-being.”
The idea of restoring the SRO at the middle school arose during another commissioners’ meeting last month, when Cawley suggested that this be funded through municipal government, and not educational, channels. Cawley said he was motivated by the way in which City Manager Barbara Jones has handled Mount Airy’s finances, allowing reserve funds to grow even as property taxes have been slashed.
Officials Debate Solution
Exactly how to fund the SRO, and when to reinstate the program, took up most of Thursday night’s discussion.
Commissioner Dean Brown said he thought the matter should be addressed at a city government planning retreat to be held during the winter. That would allow officials to develop more information about what will be involved, Brown said.
Steve Yokeley, another board member, said he agreed with the idea of reinstating the SRO, but also wanted to delay a decision until officials explore possible funding avenues for the position such as grants.
“We may be able to do it and not cost us anything,” Yokeley said of a program with a price tag of $50,000 per year. “I’d like to postpone any decision until I know how much it’s going to cost.”
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley saw merit to further study as well as adding the officer beforehand. “I think research would be good, too,” Brinkley said. “But I would like to see us do something.”
The action ultimately taken by the board seemed to be triggered by remarks from the city manager concerning how the middle school SRO program could be implemented sooner rather than later.
“I do think that we can make that a reality now if you want to do that,” Jones told the commissioners. With the city government about halfway through a budget year, the SRO could be provided through the existing staff of the police department’s Community Services Division, at least temporarily, without any extra expenditure, she explained.
“I would feel comfortable saying right now we could do it with existing staff,” Jones added regarding assigning the officer.
Based on Thursday night’s discussion, this will occur with the start of the next semester in January and be maintained for the final six months of the fiscal year. This way, no budget amendments are required.
Jones said the situation will be evaluated to determine how using the existing personnel works, and then a decision made on maintaining that plan or finding a way to add personnel when the next budget goes into effect on July 1.
City officials all seemed in agreement Thursday that the goal is finding a way to ensure the middle school will have an SRO permanently.
“If we can get a grant, then that would be wonderful,” Cawley said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.