Viewpoint: What do we value in our community?
BY BRADY JOHNSON
Just days ago a student was shot and killed at his high school in neighboring Mecklenburg County. This week in Iredell-Statesville Schools, we have addressed threatening comments and rumors of threats made by students at West Iredell High School and South Iredell High School that caused widespread confusion and fear. These types of situations are not unique to I-SS. Across the nation and our state, all communities are struggling with concerns about public safety, security and the well-being of students.
On Wednesday, October 31, staff from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) reported to the State Board of Education that it will require $688 million to adequately fund school resource officers, nurses, guidance counselors, mental health counselors and social workers to reach recommended staff to student ratios across our state. Sadly, the staffing ratios for I-SS are far worse than the state average as evidenced in the data below:
As America’s social norms and values continue to change, schools are presented with unprecedented challenges to address the needs of students and assure parents and grandparents that their children are safe.
On Tuesday, November 6, our community has an opportunity to address this challenge for our students and our community. The quarter-penny sales tax referendum is on the ballot, thanks to the vision and leadership from our county commissioners and our local Boards of Education. The Iredell-Statesville Board of Education has identified student safety, security and well-being as the priorities that they will focus on if the referendum is approved by the voters.
I-SS is consistently among the lowest funded school systems in North Carolina. If approved by the voters, this quarter penny sales tax will generate nearly $3.2 million annually for the school system. From this, I-SS will receive a per-pupil share of the revenue along with Mooresville Graded Schools, Mitchell Community College and all charter schools in Iredell County. The remaining funds would help I-SS address the glaring gaps that we have in meeting staffing ratios to address student safety and well-being. Our Board of Education also hopes to address improvements to physical facilities, staff training and technology that enhances student safety.
While no one wants to pay more taxes, I think that everyone can agree that the sales tax is a fair tax. County officials report that more than half of the sales tax increase will be paid by non-residents of Iredell County. Currently, seven of the nine counties that border Iredell have already approved this same sales tax increase. If you currently shop outside Iredell County, you are already paying a higher sales tax that is going to support the schools in neighboring counties. The increased tax would not apply to groceries, prescription medicine, gasoline and farming supplies. The sales tax increase will also help county leaders avoid a future increase to property taxes to fund school needs.
After hearing the presentation from DPI staff members this week, state board member Wayne McDevitt summed up the presentation best by saying, "The budget is a reflection of our values. The budget request is a statement that reflects what we consider to be a priority."
I hope you will take time to educate yourself about the importance of this referendum. Our Schools First has done a great job of providing factual information about this initiative at their website www.QuarterPennyVote.com
Please give serious consideration to this initiative which will greatly assist us in making sure that our community shows our students that we value them.
Sincere thanks to all of the hard working taxpayers who fund public schools – every child’s chance, every community’s future.
Brady Johnson is superintendent of Iredell-Statesville Schools.