Viewpoint: School safety, student well-being remain top priorities as new year begins
Editor's Note: Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education Chairman Martin Page made the following comments during the August 12 school board meeting.
BY MARTIN PAGE
The 2019-20 school year is off to a good start. I-SS enrollment is up, especially in the south end of the county. Some of our southern schools are seeing over double-digit percentage growth. This amount of growth always puts a strain on our resources, especially this year without an approved state budget.
With the recent mass shootings in our country, school safety, security, and student well-being is a hot topic.
Last year Iredell-Statesville Schools spent over $1.25 million on student safety, security, and SRO funding and student well-being. Most of of the money was for School Resource Officers (SROs), crossing guards, nurses, student assistance personnel, and social workers.
Capital expenses included $255,000 on safety and security improvements, including fencing, control gates, school entrance security, and window film. I-SS provided $462,400 for school SROs; of this amount, approximately $383,000 was provided by the state.
This year we are very pleased with the increase in School Resource Officers at our schools. We thank the Iredell County commissioners for setting up a special fund ($1,971,152) for public school safety. This year I-SS has increased its expenditures for SROs by $175,194.
To achieve this, commissioners moved just under a million dollars ($985,576) of I-SS’s capital funds and then matched it with county money. This shift of I-SS’s capital funds allowed the money to be spent in support of safety personnel instead of building and maintenance.
Unfortunately, without a new funding stream, we will have to continue to move money from capital and instructional areas to pay for safety, security and student well-being. In other words, we are robbing Peter to pay Paul.
This safety fund moved the funding for the five existing SROs at our county middle schools (a cost of approximately $268,000) and the training/supply/insurance of all the 10 existing county SROs (about $81,500) from the sheriff's office budget to the new joint safety fund.
The safety fund also pays for four additional sheriff SROs ($187,973) and gives the sheriff’s office $100,000 to equip them to serve our elementary schools.
A big thanks to Sheriff Darren Campbell for funding three additional SROs and their expenses from his budget to provide an SRO assigned to geographically paired elementary schools in the county.
One of the sheriff’s and I-SS’s goals is to have an SRO in every public school in the county. The sheriff also funds an SRO supervisor and a full time school K-9 officer. Thank you, Sheriff Campbell and the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office!
This joint safety fund also provides an additional Troutman Police Department SRO for South Iredell High School, our second largest high school and home to our system-wide IB choice program. South High now has two SROs as does Lake Norman High.
The safety fund now provides four SROs for I-SS’s schools in Troutman. The Town of Troutman covers vehicles/equipment/training/supplies/insurance cost for these SROs. Thank you, Troutman and the Troutman Police Department!
The new joint fund also provides two new Statesville City Police Department SROs. One new SRO is assigned to Northview IB Middle School and one is split between East Elementary and NB Mills Elementary.
This addition gives the City Of Statesville a total of five full-time SROs. The city also pays for a supervisor, who is stationed at Statesville High School, in addition to the full-time SRO there. Statesville also pays for vehicles/equipment/training/supplies/insurance cost for these SROs. We thank the Statesville Police Department for its support!
Again, a big thank you to all our law enforcement partners for their support in providing onsite law enforcement at these campuses. SROs provide on the spot armed protection in the event of a serious situation. Perhaps even more important is their day-to-day interaction with the students.
Other uses of the joint safety fund is to provide money ($95,000) for the five gate monitors at our five traditional high schools, paid for by the county for the last two years. There is also $50,000 in the joint safety budget for extra security when and if it is needed for events or emergencies.
The safety fund has an additional $595,964 budgeted for cameras, communication upgrades, social media monitoring software, and various capital safety improvements. One of I-SS’s top priorities for this year is greatly improving the real-time communication at our schools with law enforcement.
Bi-directional antenna boosters (BDAs) are needed for North Carolina’s emergency radio system (Viper) and cell phone service at some of our schools. This is a high priority at some of our rural schools which have very poor radio connectivity for law enforcement and weak cell service.
Other top priorities include timely access to school cameras for law enforcement and other first responders as well as hardening the security of our facilities.
I-SS has made a strong commitment to improve what we consider total student safety and well-being. We are providing suicide prevention training to all employees this year. We also hope to continue to increase the number of our Student Assistant Personnel (SAP), nurses, and social workers at our schools as we have for the past few years.
The commissioners and law enforcement do not include students’ personal well-being as their responsibility; therefore, these costs cannot be paid from the joint school safety fund. However, I-SS will continue to seek essential funding for additional nurses, social workers, and mental health specialists for our students.
As soon as we get the final state budget, now in limbo in Raleigh, I-SS will determine what services we can increase this year.