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Bless our heart, under authoritarian rule, loyalty is regarded as more important than competence....

County: No money for school security upgrades

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Pitt County Schools needs $3.7 million in one-time funding to upgrade security in its schools and on its buses, but Pitt County commissioners said the money isn’t there.

The two boards meet jointly Monday to learn where Pitt County Schools stand on security and what improvements are needed. The meeting comes one week before the Board of Commissioners begin working on the fiscal year 2018-19 budget.

“I think we all share concern about our children and their safety in school,” said school board member Anna Barrett Smith. “There is a great outcry for improvements in safety and what is available for us.”

The $3.7 million security funding request is in addition to an expected request to increase the school system’s county operating budget appropriations by $3.7 million, raising the amount to nearly $42 million in fiscal year 2018-19.

“The money’s tighter than it’s ever been. I know you don’t want to hear that,” said Commissioner Beth Ward, a retired Pitt County Schools principal. School board members must “get out there to fight” for the tax increase that will be necessary to fund these projects.

Commissioners Charles Farley, Ann Floyd Huggins and Mary Perkins-Williams said they would oppose a tax increase.

“We can’t raise our taxes any higher than we already have,” Perkins-Williams said.

County Manager Scott Elliott said Pitt County’s tax base is $12.8 billion, much less than counties of similar size and population. One penny of taxes generates about $1.3 million. 

Commissioners Tom Coulson, Jimmy Garris and Mark Owens Jr. advised the school board and Superintendent Ethan Lenker to present a prioritized list of requests. Garris recommended looking at existing programs to see if any could be cut so that money could be applied to security upgrades.

Commissioner Glen Webb didn’t attend Monday’s meeting.

Pitt County has 37 schools and all have varying security measures in place.

Pre-kindergarten-eighth grade schools and the early college on Pitt Community College’s campus have buzz-in systems. Four schools have access control, where security cards are needed to enter various parts of the buildings. Access control will be installed in six additional schools this year.

Lakeforest and Chicod schools had entryway corridors — a space between the exterior door and an interior security door — installed during their renovations.

Lenker said the school system needs $800,000 to install entryway corridors in non high school buildings.

The school board plans to ask for $1.3 million to update cameras in the schools and $1.4 million to install new cameras in school buses.

There are 14 school resource officers in 11 schools. The school system receives $1.2 million from the state to fund the positions.

Lenker said the school system also wants to work with the county and municipalities to fund additional school resource officer positions. The Farmville Police Department already responded by securing a grant to fund an officer who will be stationed at Sam Bundy Elementary School.

The number of needed positions or cost was not discussed, but school staff said an additional 25 officers are needed to place one in each school.

In the $3.7 million operating budget increase is a need for about $603,000 to fund an additional nine school counselors.

The school system needs an additional 17.5 positions to meet national standards of having one counselor per 250 students, Lenker said. Pitt County Schools currently has one counselor per 400 students.

Lenker also reviewed security measures already in place and new programming to identify troubled students.

The school system also is in the process of purchasing equipment and providing staff with training so they can attend to gunshot victims, Lenker said. School nurses have already trained to serve as first responders.

Along with the funding discussion, members of both boards staked out their positions on whether classroom teachers should be armed.

“We need to be proactive,” said school board member Worth Forbes. “I’m not saying we are arming all teachers.”

School member Caroline Doherty talked about realizing her daughter was 7 months old when the Columbine High School shooting occurred April 20, 1999.

“This generation of students has grown up in the shadow of death, not just in their communities but in their schools,” Doherty said.

Every teacher and parent she has spoken with are opposed to arming teachers.

Coulson said Doherty’s comments were enlightening because everyone who has contacted him supports arming teachers.

‘I believe the climate we are in, our black and brown students, our black and brown young men, will fear being a target,” said school board member Mary Blount Williams. Perkins-Williams echoed her concern.

Commissioner Melvin McLawhorn, a retired state probation/parole supervisor, said as a former firearms instructor, he knows carrying a weapon isn’t a simple task and the burden shouldn’t be placed on teachers.

School board member Benji Forrest asked both boards to consider other needs because a great school system also needs experienced, well-paid educators.

“I don’t want to arm our teachers with guns, but arm them with the tools they need to teacher,” school board chairwoman Mildred Council said.

The meeting ended on a note of unity. Each board unanimously voted to support a resolution asking the General Assembly to place a $1.9 billion referendum to fund capital projects and security improvements on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Video of the meeting is available at www.pittcountync.gov/pitttv. It also can be viewed on Suddenlink channel 13 at 3 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday during the next several weeks.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com and 329-9570.

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