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Education

No Funds For Elementary School Police In CMS Budget

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GWENDOLYN GLENN
/
WFAE

After a lengthy debate, Charlotte-Mecklenburg board of education members voted to eliminate funding for police officers in elementary schools in the proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The discussion was testy and emotional at times about the need for the officers during Tuesday night’s board meeting

CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox’s proposed budget included an additional $2.7 million to hire 25 student resource officers at elementary schools. Currently, municipalities pay for the few that have them. Several school board members said that is not the best use of funds.

Board member Carol Sawyer introduced an amendment that called for that money to be used to hire 25 additional emotional support staff.

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Credit CMS
Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board student advisor Kendall Sanders gave an emotional plea for more support staff for students during this week's board meeting.

“Student support services is a critical need in our schools, specifically school psychologists, guidance counselors, social workers and parent advocates,” Sawyer said.

Wilcox’s budget already included an additional $5.7 million for student support to hire 45 counselors, social workers and psychologists. Sixty were funded in last year’s budget. Board members Ruby Jones and Rhonda Cheek argued to keep the officer funding.

“Teachers need support of students who come to school with all kinds of agendas. Safety is an import criteria,” Jones said. “It is first and foremost if you talk to any parents.”

“We’ve had major custody battles that have erupted in front of our staff where police had to be called in and that’s extremely traumatic,” Cheek said. “If there’s a member on the team trained in law enforcement that can come and intervene, isn’t that going to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety of the staff and students?”

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart says police can be effective but, she says, because suicide attempts, depression and other problems are on the rise in schools, emotional support staff are needed more.

“When we put law enforcement above and beyond the social emotional learning needs of our students, we are creating an imbalance,” Ellis-Stewart said.

District schools are far off from per student ratios recommended for emotional support staff. For example, one social worker is recommended for every 250 students by the National Association of Social Workers. But last year’s CMS ratio was one per 2,100 students. Ellis-Stewart and Jones sparred when Jones was asked if she would give up on her numerous calls for more media specialists in schools.

“Would you trade media specialists for SROs?” Ellis-Stewart said. “And you don’t have to answer.”

“Yes, I do because we’re not talking about a trade,” Jones said and the two argued back-and-forth for a short time.

The discussion ended with an emotional plea from Kendall Sanders, the board’s student representative who favors more emotional support staff over police officers.

“We should focus on what students need most, and what they’ve come to me and told me is what they need is student support,” Sanders said in a teary voice. “For a lot of us, we don’t have a lot of time. I’m an 11th grader and I only have a couple more years. I feel like this is near to my heart. I might not need it myself, but I do feel like my colleagues need it and I feel like the time is now to do it.”

In the end, board members unanimously approved the budget, with funding for emotional support instead of additional police officers. It now goes to county commissioners who will have the final say in what gets funded.