Staff photo by Allison Potter
Officer J. Smith of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department stands outside Wrightsville Beach School as parents drop off their children on Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Eleven deputies from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department will serve as school resource officers for the 25 elementary schools in the New Hanover County Schools district effective Jan. 15.
During the Jan. 7 meeting of the New Hanover County Board of Education, members voted unanimously to enter into a three-year contract with the sheriff’s department after receiving a state grant of $157,000 annually for three years. The school district will contribute $149,000 per year. Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley noted that funding will rollover from the 2013-14 school year, ending midway through the 2016-17 school year.
Tuesday’s decision was the culmination of county-level discussions that began shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012.
In May 2013, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners declined to provide funding for the resource officers after it was requested by the school board. At the time, the estimated cost of funding the SROs for each of the 25 elementary schools was $2.3 million over three years.
A districtwide survey conducted in 2013 showed a majority of parents supporting permanent, armed law enforcement at the elementary schools. However, when asked whether they would support those officers if funding them potentially reduced or eliminated other education programs, a majority of respondents said they did not.
Before the vote, board members briefly discussed the contract. Dr. Derrick Hickey said the district did not have much extra money. Markley responded the board had initially considered setting aside about a half million dollars toward SROs when discussions began.
School resource officers are already present in county middle and high schools, with officers tasked with double-checking attendance, helping to move students in large groups, addressing concerns with individual students and occasionally speaking to classes.
The 11 new SROs will rotate through the 25 schools as needed, said deputy superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday after the meeting.
Of the state grant, Holliday said the district had been in a good position to pursue the grant when it became available, because other counties interested had not already received funding commitments from their boards.