Rowan-Salisbury school board discusses resource officers for elementary schools

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 27, 2018

SALISBURY — School resource officers have long been a familiar sight for middle and high school students. But in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, there are 20 schools that have never had one — the elementary schools.

On Monday, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education discussed what it would take to beef up security for the district’s most vulnerable students and put full-time resource officers in every school in the system.

Board member Dean Hunter said he wants to start looking at possibilities for “obvious reasons.”

The recent death of 17 students in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, shook the nation and has sparked a wide re-examination of school security procedures.

“It’s always a priority,” board Chairman Josh Wagner said. “But now with things that have happened, it’s at the forefront.”

The board spent nearly two hours in closed session Monday getting an update on school security systems and planned security measures. But during open session, the board discussed hiring an additional 20 school resource officers.

A full-time, fully equipped resource officer would cost an estimated $112,000 per year each — which would bring the total cost to $2.24 million. Hunter argued that board members shouldn’t let sticker shock prevent them from doing the right thing.

“If there’s ever been a time where we take a serious look at our security issues, it’s now,” Hunter said. “And I think time has come and gone for making excuses for not doing things we can do. I don’t think money can be an issue.”

But Hunter acknowledged that arranging for 20 new resource officers would take time and likely wouldn’t be possible until the next fiscal year. Still, he said, there must be security measures the board could implement almost immediately.

“Let’s work on how we can do something,” he said.

Board member Travis Allen suggested talking to local law enforcement to ask if officers would be willing to sign up for extra duty in schools. Rowan County officers and deputies often work rotating, 12-hour shifts, meaning they may have several consecutive days off. Some might be willing to work extra hours to provide school security.

While they wouldn’t have the equipment or the car most resource officers have, they could still be an effective stopgap, he said.

“You’re still getting experienced officers in these schools,” he said.

But a school resource officer is much more than a safety measure. Sgt. Scott Flowers, who oversees the county’s resource officers, said the officers are carefully chosen and trained.

“We’re not just there as law enforcement. We’re there to teach and mentor kids. … We’re more than just security,” he said.

The board agreed to continue the discussion at its next meeting, as well as to start discussions with local municipalities and law enforcement agencies.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.