Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Here’s your chance to weigh in on violence, school safety in New Hanover County

A sheriff’s deputy makes a call outside the New Hanover County Board of Education center. (Port City Daily photo/Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County residents will have a chance to join in on the discussions surrounding community violence and school safety this week during two virtual forums.

The first forum, Monday at 6 p.m., will concentrate on violence at large. Viewers will first listen in on a panel with law enforcement, local groups and parents, who will discuss the issues leading to and resulting from violence within the community.

The second forum is specifically focused on security in schools. It starts Wednesday at 6 p.m. Representatives from the district’s central services office will speak with school administrators and parents about how issues originating in the community are impacting the class setting, and what can be done to make campuses safer.

After both discussions, attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and share comments in the Zoom chat.

“Talking about the adversities that face our community and schools is an important step toward addressing the issues that threaten safety in both places,” New Hanover County’s Chief Diversity and Equity Officer Linda Thompson stated in a press release.

Thompson will facilitate both events.

“These two community forums will be opportunities to openly discuss what is happening and hear directly from our community on what they are seeing, concerns they have, and how we can tackle these problems together,” she continued.

These panels are being held as the county gears up to budget around $89 million over the next three years to address the concerns. An early framework of the spending plan includes $43 million for hardscape improvements on school campuses and $46 million for “people-centric” investments, such as growing wrap-around services.

The discussions sprung from a shooting at New Hanover High in August. One student allegedly shot and injured a classmate in the midst of a multiple-person fight, captured on cell phone videos. Within days of the incident, county and local leaders joined to discuss how to prevent a similar event. Local law enforcement officials reported an uptick in youth violence stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The commissioner chair deemed the situation a crisis and led a successful motion to dip into millions from the sale of the county-owned hospital. Since then, a majority of the commissioners asked the staff to search for different funding options and present each proposed expenditure as a budget amendment for their review. Chair Julia Olson-Boseman accused her colleagues Jonathan Barfield, Rob Zapple and Deb Hays of slowing down the process.

County manager Chris Coudriet told commissioners Monday he doesn’t know yet when he will present budget items for approval but indicated staff will have a clearer timeline early next week. At this time, the county is exploring alternative funding at the latest direction from the commissioners. It also needs to complete and receive approval on its audit from the Local Government Commission to “say with certainty, that this is the amount of fund balance that is potentially available over the course of time,” Coudriet said.

Coudriet confirmed a Bull City United-like initiative is expected to be included in the first round of funding requests. Bull City United is a violence prevention model used in Durham. The public health department hires people with some form of street credibility as “messengers,” or “violence interrupters,” who try to intervene when conflict is stirring. The goal is to decrease the number of shootings and connect the people who helped are to resources, including employment.

Most of the planning for the spending framework has been kept confidential. The upcoming forums are the second time the general public is officially invited to give their say on the matters. The county closed an online survey Nov. 1 that collected feedback.

New Hanover County will re-post the videos of each forum to its YouTube, as well as nhcgov.com/schoolsafety and its social media, the following day.

Let’s Talk: Community Violence Forum
Monday, Nov. 15 at 6 p.m.
Click here for the Zoom link

Let’s Talk: School Safety Forum
Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 6 p.m.
Click here for the Zoom Link

Send tips and comments to alexandria@localdailymedia.com or Tweet @alexsands_

Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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