DPI allocates funds for more SROs, school mental health personnel

Posted 10/4/19

As part of a multi-year push to improve school security, the N.C. General Assembly recently unanimously passed House Bill 75, which would allocate more than $68 million for school safety and mental …

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DPI allocates funds for more SROs, school mental health personnel

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Posted

As part of a multi-year push to improve school security, the N.C. General Assembly recently unanimously passed House Bill 75, which would allocate more than $68 million for school safety and mental health purposes.

But how much Chatham County would benefit from that money and how far it will go is a different story, according to school officials.

Among other purposes, HB75 sets up a School Resource Officer Grants Program for the goal of “improv(ing) safety in (school districts) by providing grants for school resource officers.” A public school district may apply to the state Department of Public Instruction for funds for new School Resource Officers, which in Chatham take the form of sheriff’s deputies stationed at various schools. Chatham County Schools currently has 11 SROs spread among its 17 campuses.

The bill states that every $2 of state money must be matched with $1 of non-state money. The bill allocated $3 million this fiscal year and $6 million next year for the grants.

But according to John McCann, Chatham County Schools’ public relations coordinator, filling out each of the county’s schools with an SRO would be costly and state money will only go so far.

McCann said for each SRO, the cost is such: $63,815 per year for salary and benefits, $11,000 for officer uniform and equipment and $38,931 for a vehicle per officer at a total price tag of $113,746. In a hypothetical scenario where the $9 million was allocated evenly among the state’s 115 public school districts, the $78,260.86 from the state would fall well short of covering a full officer.

McCann said the district added four new SROs this past year and had to utilize its own money along with state funds.

“Just to outfit four officers, that money is going to go fast,” he said. “While we are appreciative of it, it’s just not going to do a whole lot for us. We had to add to it to make it work for all of these officers.”

Chatham already spends more per student in local funds for public school than most counties. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the county allocated $3,510 per student, ranking sixth in the state, while getting the 86th most in state funding.

During district budget discussions earlier this year, CFO Tony Messer said state funding, outside for teacher salaries, has been “flat the last couple years.”

“It’s obvious that Chatham County supports its schools,” Messer said. “The commissioners believe in what we’re doing over here at the public school system. If we weren’t funded at this level, considering our federal funding and our state funding, then there are a lot of resources that would not be available for the students of the Chatham County Schools.”

Funds were in much greater apportionment for mental health personnel — defined in the bill as school psychologists, counselors, nurses and social workers. The bill sets aside $43 million over the next two years for “improv(ing) student mental health by increasing the number of school mental health support personnel.”

The funds would be distributed from the state’s regular allotment to each county and charter school for instructional support. Chatham received $3,144,290 for instructional support personnel from the state this fiscal year, enough to support 41 positions, according to state data.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said in a press release that he was appreciative of the General Assembly passing the bill.

“We continue to increase school safety efforts with more school resource officers and mental health supports for students,” Johnson said. “It is important that we do not lose momentum in this important work, so providing these funds through the current budget impasse is the right thing to do for our schools and our students.” 

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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