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Pitt County School leaders say safety is a priority, despite limited funds

Pitt County School leaders say safety is a priority, despite limited funds

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After the Sandy Hook Massacre, school leaders in Pitt County promised to make school safety a priority.

But now that it's budget time, no big chunk of money is allotted for a stepped-up effort, and 9 On Your Side wanted to know why.

Within their $211 million budget, Pitt County commissioners plan to give school leaders everything they asked for – about $35 million. It's $1.5 million more than commissioners approved last year.

Of that money, $750,000 will be re-instated for general maintenance and repair of things like buses, buildings and classroom furniture; $1.5 million will go to proposed state requirements like employee salary increases; and $200,000 will go to bonuses for new teachers.

But what about school safety? School leaders say it's a top priority, yet there's no big chunk of money allotted for it.

Pitt County Schools Public Information Officer Brock Letchworth is quick to point out just because school safety isn't a line item, doesn't mean they're not doing anything about it.

He says by fully-funding their basic needs, commissioners will free up money from the school system's general fund that can now go toward achieving some of the goals established by a safety and security task force

"Things such as cameras for all of the elementary schools now and buzz-in systems at front doors of the schools, fencing," Letchworth says. "Things like this, we've been needing to put in place in certain schools. Now we feel we will be able to move forward with doing that."

While there's not enough money to hire more resource officers, Letchworth says, "The safety and security task force can make all the recommendations they want. And we can make changes, we can add cameras, however, ultimately it's going to take a culture change on the part of the staff and our schools to recognize that it's not business as usual."

He added, "We need to be more proactive, and more aware of our surroundings, and who's inside our buildings or outside our buildings in order to make our kids safer."

9 On Your Side also asked Letchworth about the status of a $225,000 federal grant Pitt County Sheriff Neil Elks wanted to apply for. It would've paid for six additional school resource officers in rural county schools for the next three years.

But there was one catch: It would've required a 25 percent local match from the school system.

It was an offer the school board passed up on.

"Our Human Resources and Finance Committee decided it wasn't in our best interest to commit that kind of money with so much uncertainty in the state budget at this time," Letchworth says.

"We want our schools to be safe, and we're going to do what we can to try to ensure our schools are safe, but it's certainly not in our best interest to invest in new personnel when we have people like teacher assistants who may be losing their jobs."



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