Weigh in on school safety/tax issue

May 03, 2013

There’s bound to be a lot of discussion about funding measures aimed at beefing up school safety in Haywood County.

During a recent budget work session where the Haywood County Board of Education requested about $900,000 in added funds that would address school safety. The request asked for $410,000 to install safety measures on the 16 school campuses, including external barriers, a door scan system and locks. It also requested four school resource officers that would likely be placed at the more remote schools, four additional guidance counselors to be placed in elementary schools and a social worker who will visit homes where a student has a behavioral or delinquency problems.

Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte said the guidance counseling staff numbers had been reduced as the result of budget cuts, and noted counselors are an important link to prevention and intervention measures that can reduce the risk of violence.

During the budget work session, county commissioners asked about the cost of having an armed resource officer present at all schools, something that was estimated at $850,000. That, added to the cost of safety upgrades at the schools, amounts to about $1.2 million, or the equivalent of 2 cents increase on the present tax rate.

This doesn’t even take into account the value of having counselors on campus to work with problem students or a social worker who can help head off nonattendance or behavior problems.

On the bright side, there is a state legislative bill that will help local school districts offset some of the safety costs if it survives the budget process in Raleigh.

In any event, the commissioners said they clearly didn’t have that kind of funding available and asked the school board members if they thought residents might support a tax hike to cover something as important as school safety. Both boards agreed that the only way to know would be to ask the public to weigh in on the matter.

It’s an issue that will undoubtedly spark lively conversation between now and June 30 when local governments must, by law, adopt a budget for the next fiscal year.

The discussion is worthwhile and poses two important questions to community residents. What value is placed on the safety of children? How important is an extra $30 (the price of a 2 percent tax increase on a home valued at $150,000) in relation to school safety?

Many may say they have no children in school and shouldn’t be forced to pay for today’s students. The truth is, when their children were in school, empty-nesters or those without children helped defray public education costs, and that’s the way it has been in recent decades. Society has determined that an educated society pays dividends that can be measured, and that an uneducated society presents a host of problems society pays for in other ways.

The discussion will be an interesting one. Take time to weigh in on the matter by writing a letter to The Mountaineer or contacting your local elected representatives.