Council OKs SRO vehicle funding for MSI

WINNSBORO – Until now, Midlands STEM Institute (MSI), a public charter school in Winnsboro, was the only public school in Fairfield not provided with a school resource officer (SRO). But that omission was righted at last week’s county council meeting when council voted 6 – 1 to approve $60,273.63 for a Dodge Charger and all the necessary equipment and uniforms for an SRO for the school.

The county purchase was prompted after MSI applied for and was awarded a grant to cover salary and benefits for the SRO.

CEO & Principal Cynthia Prince

“The general assembly appropriated over $11 million for the S.C. Department of Education for fiscal year 2019/2020 as part of a proviso to provide for salaries and benefits for SROs in public schools that didn’t already have them,” Deputy County Administrator Laura Johnson explained. “The proviso is carried from fiscal year to fiscal year, so I’m pretty certain the grant will continue through fiscal year 2020/2021, but for now this proviso is for fiscal year 2019/2020.”

That grant money was distributed through the school districts.

“MSI is part of the Erskine Charter School District, and grants were awarded for two schools under that district to receive funding for an SRO,” MSI Executive Director and Principal Cynthia Prince told council. “We applied and were awarded one of those grants.”

That grant is only useful to the school if it can find funds to cover the cost of an outfitted vehicle for the SRO.

“It is MSI’s upmost goal to provide the safest opportunity possible for our students,” Prince stated in her request for the county funds. “An SRO has been requested by our families to be within the school, but until now has not been a possibility,” Prince said.

MSI is a tuition-free public charter school within Fairfield County in its sixth year of operation. The school currently serves 170 students in K-5 through grade 10, and will be adding grades 11 and 12 and possibly K4 in the next two years, Prince said.

“Will you be asked to reapply every year for the grant?” Councilman Douglas Pauley asked.

“No, once we were accepted, we don’t have to reapply,” Prince said. “We expect that the grant will be ongoing.”

“When you talk about school safety, it’s kind of the wild, wild west out there now,” Council Chairman Neil Robinson said. He continued that he felt the position is needed, but asked if council should wait till budget season to provide the funding for the vehicle and equipment.

“I believe if we wait till budget season, they (MSI) will lose the opportunity to receive the [Department of Education] grant for the salary,” Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas offered.

In a Dec. 20, 2019 memo, County Finance Director Anne Bass noted that the budgeted costs that would need to be provided by Erskine for SRO positions (salary, FICA/Med, retirement and medical insurance) totaled $59,931.88.

The $60,273.63 provided by the county will cover uniforms, $5,800; Dodge Charger, $28,136; graphics, $295; equipment, $13,000; 800 radio, $5,447.15; 800 walkie talkie, $4,600; training uniforms, $200; laptop computer, $1,955.49; cell phone ($40 x 12), $480 and MI-FI, ($30 x 12), $360.

Councilman Mikel Trapp made the motion to approve of the funds for the SRO vehicle and equipment. An amendment was made by Councilman Moses Bell for the county to provide the funds assuming the deadline has not passed [for Erskine] to award the funds [for the salary and benefits for the SRO] and for a used vehicle to be purchased instead of a new one.

The motion passed 6 – 1 with Pauley voting against.