CHARLOTTE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has eliminated 25 school resource officers from its 2019-20 budget request in favor of a combination of more school psychologists, guidance counselors, social workers and parent advocates.
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox recommended a budget that included numerous safety measures following a fatal shooting at Butler High School in October. The 25 officers were designated for elementary schools.
Carol Sawyer, who presents east Charlotte on the board, offered a motion April 23 to move funding for the 25 resource officers to staffing for student support, allowing the superintendent to choose where the money is allocated for those positions.
“I feel that of the limited funds that we have, student support services is a critical need in our schools,” Sawyer said.
The board voted 6-3 in favor of the motion. Members will meet jointly with county commissioners to discuss the budget on May 9. Commissioners are expected to hold a public hearing on the county budget on May 9 and adopt it on June 4.
Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said people are concerned about student safety in the wake of school shootings and fights but data suggests more students attend schools with police officers than counselors, psychologists and nurses.
“When we put law enforcement above and beyond the social-emotional learning needs of our students, we are creating an imbalance,” she said.
Ellis-Stewart suggested if the board wanted to add law enforcement positions, they should collaborate with the city and towns on public safety issues.
“I believe of all the issues our students face and all the issues that are causing them the most stress, concerns, lack of achievement – the lack of support services is the most critical,” board member Thelma Byers-Bailey said. “If we have to choose between SROs vs support, I believe we’re going to get the most bang for our buck by supporting our students and helping them to calm down so they can receive the education we are trying to give them.”
Sean Strain, who represents Matthews and Mint Hill on the board, confirmed with administrators that the district was asking for an extra $5.6 million for student support services staffing and $2.7 million for school resource officers.
“I don’t think that the question is should we spend the money here or there,” Strain said. “We should spend the money both places and that is proposed.”
Wilcox’s recommended budget already had a line item for 27 social workers, 10 counselors and 10 psychologists.
Board members Rhonda Cheek and Ruby Jones also preferred leaving resource officers in the budget request.
Cheek said she supported the superintendent’s recommendations, noting the school resource officers were put in there for specific reasons. She doubts the county will fund those positions anyway.
Jones said she has long supported adding social workers to schools, but she acknowledged that violence happens in elementary classrooms and teachers have expressed a need to her for resource officers. Plus, she said exposing children to officers at an early age could help them realize officers are not negative influences in their lives.
Outside of resource officers, the board was unified on the budget request it will take to the county.
CMS has proposed a total operating budget of $1.6 billion, which is a 7.6 percent increase over the previous year. The county is expected to chip in $529,779,896.
“When the superintendent introduced his budget recommendation, he made the point that our kids should matter most in our community and that numbers in our budgets today do create stories about their tomorrows,” Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley said. “Our budget really is a story about what matters most to us.”
CMS has crafted its story around equity, people and support. The district is asking for these increases from the county: $9.1 million for equity, $32.5 million for people and $22.1 million in student support. When you factor the anticipated increase of $6.2 million that will be passed on to charter schools, the total increase will amount to $69.9 million.