Christmas is still more than a month away, but a “shopping” idea has been offered up from the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners in the form of restoring a school resource officer at a city campus.
“I want us to offer a gift of the SRO to the middle school,” said Commissioner Jon Cawley of a specialized law enforcement position he and others believe is vital to the local educational system.
Mount Airy Middle School on Hamburg Street did have a full-time school resource officer until funding cuts mandated by the state government caused that position to be eliminated in December 2008. City school officials said at the time they were faced with making either this reduction or cutting classroom expenses.
The school system sought funding from both the police department and city government to maintain the position, but neither of those was in a position to help due to the economy.
It’s now four years later, and Cawley believes the SRO program for the middle school should be revisited and somehow funded.
He said the cost of having an officer at the campus full-time would be $50,000 per year for salary and other expenses. While the city commissioner has offered no specifics on how it would be met, Cawley believes supplying the officer should be viewed as an investment.
“I think we can either spend that money now or spend it in another way later,” he said.
Supporters believe having an SRO at the campus full-time would be beneficial not only from the standpoint of having someone there to handle any violent or other incidents that arise. They also see its value in allowing law enforcement to build a rapport with students which can pay dividends later.
“We need this — we really need it bad,” said Shirley Brinkley, another city commissioner, who has served as a substitute teacher at Mount Airy High School, which has an SRO. Brinkley said the program builds a respect for the law among young people.
“I’d really like to see us pursue this,” Brinkley said of re-establishing an SRO presence at Mount Airy Middle School, which would reach students at an impressionable age.
Kelly Hiatt, a veteran member of the Mount Airy Police Department, served as the middle school SRO for more than two years until the position ended. Hiatt is now the department’s community services officer.
The state government provides money to all school systems for SROs at high schools. However, having them at middle schools is an expense often met by school systems or the municipal or county governments where they are located.
With Mount Airy recently experiencing a solid fiscal year in which the municipality was able to increase its fund balance despite less revenues and several major expenditures, the timing could be right for restoring the middle school SRO, Cawley indicated.
Cawley, who is a local pastor along with serving as a commissioner, is pledging to push for the SRO — “because I think it is essential for the well-being of our children.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.