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School board wrestles with funding elementary school resource officers

SALISBURY — State-mandated salary increases have delayed plans to place school resource officers in local elementary schools.

Carol Herndon, chief financial officer for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, gave the Board of Education updates Monday on recent budget developments, including county appropriations, state increases and the status of a staff optimization policy.

The policy, approved during a previous budget workshop, authorized the shrinking of 20 positions through attrition in order to get needed funding. Positions targeted were support staff such as assistant principals, technology facilitators and media center coordinators.

During the budget retreat, Herndon estimated that the move would save the district more than $1 million. Staff members said they hoped to use the money to put school resource officers in local elementary schools, among other budget priorities.

But by Monday’s meeting, that had not been worked out.

According to Herndon, staff optimization so far has netted the district about $700,000. It’s a number that should increase, she said, as the district still hasn’t reached its 20-position goal. When it does, the total savings should round out to about $1.5 million.

In addition, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners provided the district with another $1 million appropriation after the board requested that it fund supplements and school security measures.

As of Monday, school resource officers at elementary schools, a line item to the tune of $882,000, was still unfunded. The extra money went toward other budget priorities — such as increased supplements, funding Rowan County Early College and transportation for the Knox Center for Accelerated Studies.

In addition, an unexpected state-mandated salary increase for teachers, principals, assistant principals and noncertified staff took a $600,000 chunk out of the district’s local funds.

“So right off the bat, we had to calculate the impact of that and fund that through our local budget,” Herndon said.

However, staff members said it was a price they were happy to pay.

“It’s a blessing,” Herndon said. “It took a big chunk of our local monies, but it’s something we should be really proud of.”

The district also had an increase in its maintenance expenses to help keep up with aging school buildings. Still unfunded are elementary school resource officers, an increase in substitute pay and enhanced student support services. RSS staff is finishing the district’s local budget, so some items are subject to change.

“So we’ll see if any of that creates opportunities against this not-funded list,” Herndon said.

Work also has just begun on distributing state funding. This year, Rowan-Salisbury Schools received a lump sum from the state thanks to its new status as a renewal school district.

“So we are now taking that bucket of money and crafting reasonable, actionable budgets against which we can be held accountable,” Herndon said.

As staff moves forward, she said there may be opportunities to shift funds to cover unfunded priorities.

Board member Travis Allen recommended allocating at least some money toward elementary school resource officers. In a previous meeting, the board approved a $35,000 stopgap measure to hire part-time officers to cover schools, but board Chairman Josh Wagner said some schools have had difficulty finding officers. The best way to solve it, he said, would be to fully fund school resource officers.

“This was something the board wanted to do, and it was something we relayed to the county in our budget request, and it was something I think the county was very much in support of being able to do,” he said. “…The problem is that we got an additional $1 million, and now we’re right back in the same place we were six months ago without any money to fund the SROs.”

Board member Dean Hunter, too, was dissatisfied.

“I just have a real problem,” he said.

Hunter said he is frustrated that despite plans and increased funding, local elementary schools still lack the security that resource officers could provide.

“I have a real difficulty with that and feel that we as a county need to be addressing that — and the state, for that matter,” he said.

Herndon will update the board as budget work progresses.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 


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