County takes short-term measures to police elementary schools

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 that resulted in the death of 20 students and six adults in Newtown, Conn., school boards and local municipalities across the nation are discussing what can be done to keep children safe during the school day.

On Monday, Jan. 7, New Hanover County Commissioners Chairman Woody White listed the locations and decisions of other boards to either staff or not staff schools with additional security officers in Florida, New Jersey and Texas during the commissioners’ regular meeting.

“We’re going to hear a lot of diverse opinions,” White said about the need to listen to the national dialogue surrounding the issue. “... It has to balance the security interest with the cost.”

County manager Chris Coudriet told board members that staff came to the decision to recommend one option from a list of five based on cost sharing between municipalities and force multiplication.

The estimated cost of $634,909, split between the county and New Hanover County Schools, includes six reserve deputies and 18 current deputies serving overtime hours at the elementary schools throughout the county for the remainder of the school year effective Feb. 1.

Coudriet said that price would likely come down with the recent approval by Wilmington City Council members to fund four officers for the remainder of the fiscal year, equivalent to $114,000, and the request for funding from Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach to pay for the cost of an officer. Carolina Beach has already approved the funding. Wrightsville aldermen will hear the request at its next meeting.

The recommendation by county staff comes in opposition to Sheriff Ed McMahon’s comments made during the agenda briefing on Jan. 3 when he said he does not have the manpower for officer overtime.

“I just don’t have the resources to do that,” McMahon said. “I want to do the best that I can, but I just want to be frank.”

He said it took a week to get the schools covered for the month of January when officers were enthusiastic about volunteering to be placed in the schools.

The option does not require the county to add full time equivalents for the 2012-2013 school year.

The board voted unanimously to approve the option presented by county staff in response to the New Hanover County Board of Education’s request for heightened security on Dec. 20.

“We will make some tough decisions later in the year,” White said about the long-term decision for school safety.

The board postponed the only other regular agenda item until its next meeting due to a technical question about the site map of the special use permit for the possible expansion of the New Hanover County landfill.

During the agenda briefing, Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. asked about the future of the county’s landfill.

White said the issue continues to be important to the citizens. County attorney Wanda Copley said the board is open to proposals.

“We have never closed the door to listening to an idea,” she said.

Before being sworn in, White and Commissioner Beth Dawson toured the landfill in its current state.

Part of the solution includes convincing citizens to recycle more, therefore adding years to the landfill, White said.

“I know prior boards have worked on it exhaustively,” he said. “... We’re prepared to have that discussion, I think.”


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