North Middle could have resource officer if school system wins grant

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 11, 2013

SPENCER — Mike Boone took the oath of office Tuesday as Spencer’s newest aldermen during a meeting where the town learned that the school system could reinstate the school resource officer at North Rowan Middle School.
Boone joined five returning aldermen — Scott Benfield, Kevin Jones, Reid Walters, Jeff Morris and Jim Gobbel — and Mayor Jody Everhart in taking the oath of office, administered by Rowan County District Court Judge Marshall Bickett. Aldermen then re-elected Gobbel, the top vote-getter in November’s election, as mayor pro tem.
The board enthusiastically endorsed the possibility of bringing back a school resource office at North Middle. Town Manager Larry Smith said he and Spencer Police Chief Michael James learned earlier Tuesday that Rowan-Salisbury Schools had applied for a grant that would cover 75 percent of an officer’s total cost, including salary, benefits and equipment.
If the school system wins the grant, “things will need to move very quickly,” Smith said. Either Spencer or the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office would supply the school resource officer.
Smith said Spencer is a natural choice because the town still has the former position, which is vacant and has been frozen since 2008 when 75 percent funding for the position was canceled and the officer was removed from North Middle. Currently, Knox is the only middle school with a resource officer. All high schools have an officer.
Resource officers in Spencer have been instrumental in crime prevention, gang identification and community outreach including mentoring, building relationships with students and interacting with families, Smith said.
If the school system wins the grant and Spencer provides the officer, the town can use the employee to augment the police force when school is closed during the summer and holidays, Smith said.
James said he has several officers on the force with training to work as a school resource officer.
Aldermen also voted to pursue a $15,000 federal grant through the Governor’s Crime Commission that would help pay for new equipment and technology for the Police Department. The town would have to provide a $5,000 match, which James said he already has in his budget.
Spencer aldermen voted earlier this month during a called meeting to join with East Spencer in pursuing a $40,000 grant that would pay to create a master plan for bike and pedestrian trails in the communities. Smith said the joint application is strong and would tie-in other plans for Spencer Woods, a downtown walking loop and pedestrian connection to the N.C. Transportation Museum.
He said Boone has joined the board during a “flurry of activity.”
“It’s going to be a good two years with all the projects going on,” Smith said. “We’ve definitely bitten off as much as we can chew, but it’s going to be a mouthful.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.