Alexander County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner announced Tuesday, November 1, along with County Sheriff Chris Bowman, the receipt of a state grant to help fund school resource officers (SROs) at the district’s elementary schools.
Currently, the district receives funding for one officer that splits time between Hiddenite and Stony Point elementary schools. The goal of the newly awarded $308,000 grant would be to place an officer at each of the seven elementary schools, Dr. Hefner announced.
School resource officers are fully sworn law enforcement members who maintain a presence at school. They are able to respond to a crisis but also play a critical part in mentoring students who need positive role models.
The state has awarded grants for resource officers for several years now, but this year the state General Assembly changed the amount that qualifying low-wealth district could receive. The state agreed to allot $44,000 per officer with a required local match of $11,000 for low-wealth districts. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) designates certain counties as low-wealth based on the county’s revenue, tax base per square mile, and average per capita income.
The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, back in May has increased calls across the country for more officers. Hefner and Bowman have asked the Alexander County Commissioners for funding to help with the local costs of cars, equipment, and benefits. The county would also need to fund salaries for the officers for two months of the year since schools are only open 10 months. Now that the funding from the state is secured, the school system will pitch the added costs to the commissioners again. The Alexander County Commissioners’ next meeting is Monday, November 7.
The district will be expected to complete reports for the state, and the SRO funding will be automatically extended for the 2023-24 school year.
Also part of the state award is another $53,000 for vape detectors for restrooms at ACS middle schools and window clings for privacy and safety.
During Tuesday’s announcement, Dr. Hefner said the grant “came as a wonderful surprise. We had been waiting to hear about the funding. And we did receive everything that we asked for. Sheriff Chris Bowman and I have worked collaboratively for many years. And school safety is a top priority for both of us. We started talking more than a year ago about how to find funding to make sure that we had a resource officer a full time officer in each of our 12 schools. And this will help us to get closer to meeting that goal. The two of us we are scheduled to go to the Board of Commissioners next week, and talk about what that involves as far as the local match to ensure that every one of the seven officers that they are fully funded with a car equipment, uniforms, and everything that it will take to funds decisions of this nature.”
“With every school shooting that we would hear about nationwide, we would talk about we’re so blessed that we haven’t had anything like that in Alexander County, but you never know when you might be the next town, or the next city, the next school system,” she added.
“I just want to say a big shout out to Dr. Hefner and her team that took time to apply for this grant. It means a lot to my office,” said Sheriff Bowman. “With everything going on across the nation, we just felt that it’s time to try to get a resource officer at every school in our county. And with the grant that came down to the county, I think this will be the best opportunity to see that that happens. I feel sure the commissioners will take a hard look at this and hopefully be on board. I think they will. Because they’re concerned about the safety of the students here in the county and the staff also.”