An open letter to the citizens of Iredell County

Posted at 11:28 PM on Oct 16, 2018

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BY MARTIN PAGE

The Iredell-Statesville Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution supporting an addition 1/4 percent sales tax, which will be voted on in November’s election. This additional money will be divided with 25 percent going to Iredell County Government and 75 percent divided between Mitchell Community College, Mooresville Graded School District, Iredell-Statesville Schools and the Charter Schools operating in Iredell County by average daily membership. The county is guaranteed a minimum of $1.5 million each year.

This increased funding for Iredell-Statesville Schools will be directed to school security, safety and student well-being. This increase equals 1/4 cent for every dollar you spend. This small tax will not be levied on most necessities, including groceries, fuel, medicine and farm supplies.

School systems must make safety and security for our children the most important issue in the history of public education. I am pleased that Iredell-Statesville Schools has been very proactive in safety and security. Even though it is one of the lowest funded in North Carolina, the district has been recognized as one of the top systems in the state, especially in the area of choice for our students.

Personally, I feel our system is doing a very good job with the resources that are available for safety and security. Sadly, we do not have enough funds to provide everything we need to do. We are already using a lot of educational money, from both capital and current expenses funds, on safety and student well-being rather than on true curriculum and instruction needs.

As an elected Board of Education member, I have pushed for more security, more school resource officers, more nurses, and more trained mental health counselors. I have met with many elected officials, including federal, state and local officials, to discuss these issues many times.

Locally, as a school system, we have worked very hard to reduce unnecessary spending. Unfortunately, because of unfunded government mandates, our expenses are going up faster than our income.

Our local governments need to provide more resources for school security and safety, but they too have a limited amount of money to work with. North Carolina and the federal government must also provide more resources for school security and student safety. Unfortunately, the state and federal governments talk a good game, but they are not delivering.

For example, North Carolina is bragging about its $35 million School Safety Bill. So far, ISS has been granted $33,000 to help pay for one-half of an additional school resource officer this year. With the help of our sheriff’s office, we will be able to add this position using just $17,000 of our local educational money. Hopefully, we will be granted more for other resources, but as a so-called “rich” tier-three county, our grants are expected to be minimal.

School safety and security is a complicated issue and not easily solved. It is imperative that we provide more school resource officers, student assistance personnel and school nurses. Most citizens have no idea the serious social and health issues facing our students and schools today. Where schools once only worried about educating our youth, today our schools are being held responsible for providing mental and social support to our students at an alarmingly increasing rate.

Suicide is now a major issue for our youth. It is reported that over 3,000 school-age students commit suicide ever year. In the past two years, five students in Iredell County have committed suicide. Drugs, especially opioids, are affecting more and more students. It is not always the student’s drug use that is an issue. Too many students have parents using drugs, which negatively impacts children. Bullying is also a major issue in our society and our schools. All of these issues are exacerbated by social media.

Increased personnel is not the only need. We must have more resources to fortify our schools. We must limit and tighten public access into our buildings. We must work to provide internal security that allows less ability for intruders to move freely without limiting our students’ ability to escape, if necessary.

We must increase the use of metal detectors and searches, when necessary. We must purchase and utilize social media monitoring programs and anonymous reporting systems to monitor problems and stop harm before it occurs. Those who scream about individual freedoms at the expense of security must understand the lives of our children are much more important than anyone’s hurt feelings.

We must also provide increased training for staff and students on how to react during an emergency event. Staff training in recognizing potential danger signals from students must also be increased.

None of these answers are cheap. We must find an increased funding source to be able to provide for the safety, security, and well-being of our students. What fairer way than a very small increase of our sales tax?

This tax affects everyone, not just property owners. The many visitors and workers from out of county will also pay this tax. Most Iredell County citizens don’t think twice about going to Concord Mills, Charlotte, Hickory, or Winston-Salem to shop and eat. When you do, you are actually providing more money for those counties’ schools, not ours.

As November 6 nears, I ask the citizens of Iredell County: When are we going to do what we MUST do for our children?

The sales tax referendum will be the LAST question on the ballot. The exact wording asks voters to vote "for" or "against" the following:

Local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter percent (0.25%) in addition to all other State and local sales and use taxes.

So for our students’ safety, security and well-being, when you get to the end of your ballot on November 6, please vote YES!

Martin Page is chairman of the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education.

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