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Local officials discuss school safety efforts

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A panel consisting of Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker, Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman, Pitt County Sheriff Neil Elks and Pitt County Commissioner Glenn Webb answer questions and listen to concerns during a school safety forum at J.H. Rose on March 13, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Local officials did their best to reaffirm their desire for enhanced safety features at area schools as they fielded questions in a packed J.H. Rose High School lecture hall during the Police Community Relations Committee meeting on Tuesday night. 

Representatives from Pitt County Schools, the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, the Pitt County Board of Commissioners and the Greenville Police Department gave attendees an overview of current safety exercises and amenities in schools while also touching on an idea for additional funding.

County Commissioner Glen Webb raised the idea of a one-cent property tax hike which would generate an estimated $1.1 million that would go directly towards helping fund school security. The average tax increase  would be about $30 per year for a Pitt County residents

Webb said while paying higher taxes is tough, not doing so could have much bigger implications. 

“The cost of not doing it maybe someone’s life,” Webb said. “Someone’s life is worth a whole lot more than $30 a year.”

Webb said that his initial conversations with other county commissioners have indicated that the bond could win support. He said a resolution was passed to have a joint meeting with the Board of Education.

Webb emphasized that the idea is in a very early phase, and any form of tax increase would come as a result of identifying how much money the school board needs to make its desired upgrades. 

The funding conversation came on the heels of information provided by Police Chief Mark Holtzman, Sheriff Neil Elks and Superintendent Ethan Lenker. The trio talked mainly about what is already being done in the schools — resource officers, the newly-installed Raptor System, lockdown drills and secure corridor entry ways — but they also talked about needs moving forward. 

Lenker said the biggest thing teachers can do right now is lock their classroom doors at all times during instruction. 

“I went in probably half the schools in the last month and went around pulling doors shut and telling administrators that these doors have got to be shut,” he said.

Lenker also highlighted the challenges of making needed security improvements to older schools such as Elmhurst Elementary and Wahl-Coates Elementary. He said that the board potentially could reorder its list of priorities when it comes to allocating money earned from the red-light cameras.

Elks called schools a “soft target” and said the safety of students is his top priority. He said training for school resource officers, of which there are 14 in the county, is up to par. Holtzman advocated for putting his best officers in the school, but Elks said that even more training and more officers likely will not solve the underlying issue. 

“Don’t expect (student resource officers) to solve all the problems,” Elks said. “We’ve got to have parents buying in, we’ve got to have students buying in. This is a community thing.”

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.

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