Viewpoint: Iredell commissioners are committed to school safety and security

Posted at 12:13 PM on Sep 10, 2019

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Editor's Note: Iredell County Commissioner Gene Houpe made the following comments during Monday's Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education meeting.

BY GENE HOUPE

Last year voters turned down a quarter-cent sales tax that would’ve funded school safety, security, and well-being. I feel like we could have done a better job of informing the public of the need and uses of the revenue to adequately address the issues of safety, security, and well-being in the schools. When this did not pass, the needs still remained.

Collectively, the school systems and their boards, including the county commissioners, our administration, and all law enforcement agencies worked with the school safety committees trying to prioritize the needs for the safety of our school campuses. The county commissioners and our administration created a new funding line item in our budget through investing existing revenue from the school systems and the county in a newly created school safety and security budget.

Unfortunately, after in-depth and countless meetings, our needs were much greater than our available revenue, so working with all law enforcement agencies and elected boards, we started with items such as SROs in schools and securing campuses (fencing, gate guards, cameras, door locks) to make our schools as safe as possible. Separately, the school systems addressed the well-being side, which includes mental health, through counselors, nurses and support personnel throughout the systems.

With September being Suicide Awareness Month, I want to mention the importance of all aspects pertaining to our schools: counselors, nurses, SROs and hardening of targets. In addition to the suicide issues and safety with SROs, we still are faced with a growing epidemic in our society with opioid abuse, drug abuse and mental health problems. We all, in our discussions, realize the importance of being proactive instead of reactive -- like lots of communities are -- during these issues stemming from social and emotional health.

I want people to understand that no opinion in these decisions were taken lightly, and none was wrong -- just different. For example, law enforcement's top priorities were SROs and hardening of targets, while the school system administration and staff’s top priorities were nurses and mental health personnel. As mentioned before, this is Suicide Awareness Month, and, unfortunately, our schools and our county have lost six young lives to suicide in recent years. We all are working vigorously to do all we can with available revenue. We will continue to inform the public as to the need for additional investments to be able to proactively and successfully accomplish all of our goals. I want to thank everybody for all of their hard work so far, but most of all, I want to assure all citizens in this county that we are doing all we can to address the above issues. Thank you also to the taxpayers of this county for trusting us elected officials with investing their tax dollars for these important needs.

Gene Houpe is an Iredell County commissioner and retired law enforcement officer.

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