Mich. state grant program funds SRO positions in 195 school districts
The statewide program awarded $25 million in funds to go toward the SRO hires, which the state said will help protect over 334,000 students
By William Perkins
The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Grand Traverse County commissioners this week approved a school resource officer to begin working at Kingsley Area Schools next month.
The decision comes following a state grant committing $144,000 to the position. Two other districts, Traverse City Area Public Schools and Elk Rapids Schools, also received funding through that same state grant program. Elk Rapids received $175,000, while TCAPS received $150,000, as previously reported.
SROs are specially trained police officers based at the schools. Traverse City Commissioners on Monday approved TCAPS' request to work with the Traverse City Police Department in filling the position. Kingsley's position will be filled by the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office. County commissioners approved Kingsley's request 6-9 on Wednesday.
"I'm ecstatic," said Undersheriff Matt Shay in an interview Thursday. "I'm a huge supporter of school resource officers. I know there's been conversation that money could be better spent on social workers. My personal opinion is we need both."
Such concerns — scrutinizing the effectiveness of SROs and advocating in favor of more mental health-based solutions to school issues — were a common theme in both the city and the county's discussions of the matter.
County Commissioners Lauren Flynn, Ashley Walter and TJ Andrews, the three opposing votes, all offered some version of that argument Wednesday.
"I don't feel a school resource officer assists anywhere close to the solution," Flynn said.
Walter said there was no research indicating SROs were in any way effective at curbing school shootings, and went further to say students suffered more mental health issues with an officer in their school than without.
Commissioner Penny Morris countered those arguments with personal experience.
"When we had a tragedy in our family and our son starting going awry, our school resource officer saved his backside a few times," she said. "And having that relationship with him made a lot of difference in his life"
The district currently has social workers and counselors in every building, and part of the role of the officer would be to develop relationships with students a so-called "true blue mentor," Superintendent Brad Reyburn said at the meeting.
"It's a part of what they do, is form these relationships with parents and students in the community," he said. "It's a positive thing for law enforcement and for the school."
The SRO would be based at the high school, but would make the rounds throughout the district, Reyburn said in a previous interview.
The grant extends for three years.
Board Chairman Rob Hentschel, who voted in favor of the measure, questioned what would happen once the grant money ran out, and what the county would cut to continue funding the program.
Sheriff Tom Bensley said he thought that eventuality was unlikely — given the current climate of school shootings, the state will likely continue to support SROs, he said.
Kingsley Public Schools is matching the grant with $48,000 of its own funding for the position. If the grant money were to go away, the cost would likely be shared between the district and the county, officials said.
The statewide program awarded $25 million in funds to 195 school districts for SROs. According to the state, the SROs hired will help protect over 334,000 students.
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