With commitments pending from other area governments—save for the City of Wilmington, which is providing four officers—New Hanover County commissioners approved a funding plan Monday that would put armed guards at every elementary school, even if the county ends up footing the bill alone.
Following an at-times-confusing discussion with staff that described the plan in terms of “cost sharing” and “forced multiplication,” commissioners voted unanimously in favor of a short-term plan that would split the cost of funding 24 sheriff’s office deputies—six of them reserve; 18 to be paid through overtime hours—between county government and New Hanover County Schools.
Of $634,909, the school system would cover $280,000, while New Hanover County would incur the remainder: $354,909.
County Manager Chris Coudriet noted those figures could change with financial commitments from the beach towns, including Kure Beach, which Coudriet said is set to consider the plan this week. Commissioners had already sought agreements from Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach, but only the City of Wilmington had made an official commitment by Monday night’s meeting. Coudriet said that commitment includes four city police officers to help with the effort.
Of the county’s commitments, Coudriet said, “We are asking a lot of the sheriff, but he is willing to do a lot.”
Commissioners Chairman Woody White called the funding plan the best in terms of saving tax dollars and recognizing a shared burden among stakeholders. Should additional commitments come in over time, the plan could convert to a breakdown in which each beach town would pay for an individual officer, according to options the board has considered.
White said the funding plan would take effect Feb. 1, meaning every school in the county would have an armed guard by that date. Middle schools and high schools currently have school resource officers present on campus.
The plan would provide the additional security through the remainder of the school year. Whether more funding is budgeted for future school years could depend on what White called the “national dialogue.”
Listing communities across the country that have responded differently to the Newtown, Conn., shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, White said future decisions would benefit from that dialogue.
“We’re going to hear a lot of diverse opinions from the nation—probably from around the world—in the next few months,” White said, “and before our school system and our county adopts a long-term policy, I think we need the benefit of that dialogue, because I think it’s important. It has to balance the security interest with the cost.
“We had 1,600 people die last year in car crashes in North Carolina,” he said. “We had no schoolchildren die, but we don’t want to have one.”
Noting that lowering response time is critical—“It’s why we put defibrillators in gyms,” he said. “Somebody has a heart attack, we lower the time that we can get to them, and heighten the chances of that person surviving”—White said the same principle applies in this case.
“If someone comes in with a weapon, and they seek to do harm, they’re probably going to succeed,” he said. “There’s not a lot we can do about that. But we can at least minimize the time that they’re confronted with somebody shooting back at them.”
White commended the City of Wilmington and the school system for their contributions, even if they end up meaning pulling from their reserve funds. “It’s there for a rainy day,” he said, “and there’s no better example of a rainy day situation than this—in the short-term, coming together.
“This tragedy arose Friday, Dec. 14, and I was very impressed—at a time when it appears our government has a hard time functioning; there’s a dysfunction at the national level and sometimes in Raleigh—that our government here came together in many ways.
“This board immediately reached out to our sheriff, our school superintendent, to members of our school board, to our mayor. If you want an example in the short term of how our government can come together and provide solutions and collaborate, this is it,” White said. “And it’s for the right reasons.”
White said the plan provides a short-term solution “so that we can have enough time, without compromising safety—before we adopt a long-term policy that’s going to cost millions of dollars—(to) make sure it’s the right policy,” he said, “that maximizes security and safety for children while being fair to all taxpayers and how we spend their dollars.”
The New Hanover County Board of Education is slated to discuss the plan at its next meeting, to be held Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
Jonathan Spiers can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jrspiers