BEAUFORT — County commissioners, in a 6-1 vote with Commissioner Bob Cavanaugh dissenting, agreed Monday to fund school resource officers for schools in Newport and Morehead City if matching state funds come through.
The decision came prior to approving the county’s budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, during the board’s meeting in the administration building in Beaufort.
County staff informed commissioners a request for additional SRO services came from Morehead City and Newport officials. Specifically, the two municipalities requested a combined three SROs.
“We received a request from the town of Newport to share an SRO between Newport Elementary and Newport Middle School,” explained County Manager Tommy Burns, who added there was an additional request for Morehead Middle School, Morehead Primary and Morehead Elementary.
Like the proposed SRO for Newport, County Chairperson Mark Mansfield suggested Morehead Primary and Morehead Elementary share an SRO officer.
Funding for the three positions will come from a number of sources, including some money from the state, but the county’s portion would total $16,000 per officer. Mr. Burns later added that the total salary is $60,000 for each officer.
“That’s salary, with benefits and everything,” Mr. Burns said.
Mr. Mansfield said the county’s funding is contingent on the state providing its share in the coming budget.
“Because if the state doesn’t fund, I don’t want to be back in another position like we are in MaST right now,” Mr. Mansfield said, referring to a lack of funds in the state House budget proposal for early college high schools, including Carteret County’s Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School.
At Monday’s meeting, the commissioners agreed to fund the school’s budget request, but specified they would like to see the money go instead to retaining approximately seven teaching positions set to be cut due to a drop in state and federal money related to enrollment.
Thursday, the school board upheld that request in a 4-3 vote, shuttering the early college high school that had operated for one year on the campus of Carteret Community College.
As far as the SRO request, Commissioner Jonathan Robinson suggested the county could save money by using a security guard instead of an SRO at the elementary schools. He added that while keeping schools safe is important, maybe there isn’t as pressing a need to have SROs at an elementary school as a high school.
Commissioner Ed Wheatly asked Mr. Robinson to explain his reasoning. Mr. Robinson said elementary schools simply don’t have to deal with many of the things, like drop-out students, that high schools do.
Mr. Wheatly expressed concerns about not having 100% SRO coverage.
“I figure that if you take 10 schools and put SROs in five of those schools, you make the five that don’t have SROs the target,” Mr. Wheatly said. “I think that if we are going to put SROs in the schools, then I think we should do all the schools.”
Mr. Mansfield said it’s an issue of funding.
“They’re all equally important, but we have a request from the town of Newport and the town of Morehead City,” Mr. Mansfield said.
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.