Troutman Council rejects request to help fund SRO position at Iredell Charter Academy
BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Troutman Town Council on Monday denied a request from Iredell Charter Academy to provide a school resource officer for the for-profit charter school.
After council members raised questions last month about the request, Mayor Teross Young appointed council members Judy Jablonski and Sally Williams to investigate the issues, along with Town Manager Justin Longino.
ICA, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, secured funding to cover 10 months of a school resource officer's salary, but the town would have to provide a vehicle, equipment, training opportunities, and two summer months of employment.
“There seems to be some issues that need to be ironed out with our entire SRO program, whether it’s at the charter school, the high school, or the middle,” Longino said during Monday's meeting.
“We want to take a closer look at that if that’s the consensus of the council between now and next year so we can further outline that, formulate a policy so that when requests like this come forward, we have a formal structure on how to handle it, who pays for what and when, and how all of that is taken care of,” he added.
Though Longino favored granting the ICA request for one year only, council members, in an extended discussion, expressed their hesitance to move forward for several reasons. Jablonski pointed out that the Statesville Police Department does not provide officers to charter or private schools in their municipality.
Though it provides an SRO for both Pine Lake Charter and Langtree Charter, the Mooresville Police Department has a formal contract with those schools that defines policies and services provided. The Troutman Police Department does not currently have that type of agreement with the schools it serves.
According to information Jablonski received from Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Brady Johnson, the I-SS School Board and the Statesville Police Department funded two SROs at Statesville High and one at Pressley Alternative School because of on-campus issues. This year one additional SRO position, to be split between N.B. Mills and East Elementary, was added.
Young also noted that ICA is also a different situation. Though it is a public charter school, ICA is operated by a private, for-profit company rather than a government entity.
DOES TROUTMAN ELEMENTARY NEED AN SRO?
Jablonski questioned whether Troutman Elementary needs a part-time SRO.
Interim Police Chief Darrin Payne said that TES has not requested assistance and that SROs at South Iredell High, the Career Academy and Technical School, and Troutman Middle School were placed only after the schools requested their presence.
Payne said that Troutman officers regularly stop by TES for walk-throughs on their patrols and that a more formal visitation schedule could be created if the council desired.
Iredell Charter Academy also serves mostly non-resident students. Only 115 of the 660 students have Troutman addresses, according to Payne.
“The money (to fund the ICA SRO) is coming from people who live within the city limits,” said Jablonski. “The students who go there, the majority, are not in the city limits, as is the same situation when you talk about the high school here, the middle school here, and the elementary school here.”
“When you count how many students actually live in the city limits, it’s very few, and yet we in the city limits are paying the price for the SROs.”
“How do we explain to Troutman Elementary parents that you’re going to have an SRO, partly paid for by the town, in the charter school but the elementary school here is not even going to have a half-time (officer)?” asked Jablonski.
“I don’t want Troutman Elementary left behind.”
Longino suggested that TES parents put pressure on the school board for an SRO if they desire one.
COUNTY ELEMENTARY SROS
The town council also discussed the seven Iredell County Sheriff's Office deputies being assigned to county elementary schools throughout the county, with Paul Henkel wondering why the school board did not do the same for city elementary schools.
Register of Deeds Ron Wyatt, who was in attendance, asked to speak to the council to clarify this funding misunderstanding. “To give you all some clarity, the school board did not ask for all these SROs to go into the elementary schools,” he said.
“The sheriff (Darren Campbell) went to the school board and to the county commission and said he wanted to put the SROs into the elementary schools, so the county commissioners nor the school board are following their normal funding.”
“The school board would historically say we would accept responsibility for SROs in this manner. In this situation, the county commissioners themselves did a different funding model because of the sheriff’s request.”
“He requested these positions specifically for the county schools. He didn’t mention anything about the city schools. The county commissioners agreed to fund that. Period.”
Sheriff Campbell said on Tuesday that he discussed school security needs with the commissioners -- not the school board -- and requested funding for seven SROs to serve the 14 I-SS schools in the unincorporated part of the county. Historically, the cities and towns in Iredell have provided SROs for schools in their jurisdictions, Campbell said.
"My opinion is that every school in the county, including in the cities, needs an SRO. I'll be a strong advocate. This is just a start," the sheriff said. "If you have an SRO on premises, that's a zero response time."
Wyatt, during the Troutman council meeting, advocated for the county commission providing funding all SRO positions in all schools.
“We all pay county taxes. They should have understood that there’s schools in the cities that are going to need SROs, and I’m assuming when the request is made, that funding should come.”
Wyatt also commented on the ICA request. “It is hard for me as a taxpayer in the city limits of Troutman to look at any of my neighbors and say because the charter school asked for it and are willing to pay 10 months of it that Troutman should jump on board and fund it and then look at all the Troutman Elementary parents and say, ‘Too tough - your principal didn’t ask for it.’ ”
“Not one of those other principals asked the sheriff or the county commissioners for one either, but they’re getting them, and the county commissioners are the ones funding it. It puts a burden back on us to decide how to do it.”
“As a taxpayer in this town, to be fair and equal to all of us sending students to these schools, we should have equal SROs at every campus or not do any at any, or we should go to the county commissioners to fund us the same way they’re funding kids in other parts of the county. That’s my two cents.”
Council member Paul Henkel agreed. “I’d like to see some help from the county commissioners because of the students, where they are coming from, as opposed to Troutman paying as though they all come from Troutman.”
“The commissioners are taking care of some who pay county taxes but not others who pay county taxes because we live in a subdivision of the county.”
Only 189 of the 400 TMS students and 313 of the 1,700 SIHS students have Troutman addresses, which does not necessarily mean they live in actual town limits.
SRO COSTS/POLICY DEVELOPMENT PLANS
Council member Jan Huffman also raised concerns about setting the precedent for future charter schools coming to the area and asking for SROs. “How many people can you absorb, schedule-wise, over the summer to cover for other officers who are taking a vacation?”
Vehicle and equipment costs were also a concern for increasing the number SROs, which could reach six if SROs were added at ICA and TES.
Council member Paul Bryant suggested that the February retreat include a review of the town’s SRO program and what it costs on an annualized basis (cars, equipment, personnel). He wants an SRO line item in the budget next year to provide clear understanding of the costs. The mayor also wants a formal agreement created for future years.
CALVIN CREEK PUBLIC HEARING ON THURSDAY
The council will have a public hearing on the controversial proposed Calvin Creek subdivision rezoning request to become mixed residential on Thursday night. That hearing is expected to draw a large crowd.
Nearby neighbors are concerned about the impact of adding 225 single-family homes to the busy Perth Road/Autumn Leaf Road area, which is already exploding with residential development.
The Planning and Zoning Board voted 5-1 in June to deny the request because it lacked traffic impact information and because of density concerns since only 66 of the 120 acres are usable, crowding the homes onto small lot sizes.
Because it can only theoretically table a request for 30 days, the planning board chose to vote the request down since the information would not be available in that time frame, according to Town Planner George Berger.
To better inform the council, developer NEST Homes provided members with some preliminary information from its Kimly-Horn development traffic impact study, which is not normally required until after rezoning is granted because of the steep costs involved.
Berger said the developers also agreed to an extensive list of rezoning conditions to address concerns of neighbors and town staff.
Berger also said the developers were agreeable to installing a gravity flow sewer system that would eliminate a sewer pump station at Calvin Creek as well as at Quail Hollow. A pump station has a 20-year life cycle at a cost of around $126,000 to $130,000 for operation, maintenance, and eventual replacement.
The gravity system, which is cheaper to install, has a 50-year lifespan, potentially saving the town hundreds of thousands of dollars for two pump stations’ operation, maintenance, and two replacements over a 50-year period.
The town staff recommends approval of the rezoning request, with the proffered conditions and design standards, as consistent with the 2035 Land Use Map and the Strategic Master Plan.
THURSDAY NIGHT AGENDA
The council removed two items -- the Town of Troutman Personnel Policy and the Pay and Classification Study -- from its Thursday night agenda after Henkel requested a special meeting before the council’s September meeting to examine the documents in more detail.
Staff members have raised a few concerns that Henkel wants the council to discuss before approval.
Remaining agenda items include setting an annexation hearing request date for a nearly 19-acre tract owned by Barium Springs Home for Children on Old Mountain Road, appointments to the Planning and Zoning Board and the Board of Adjustment, and a report from the J. Hoyt Hayes Memorial Troutman Library staff.