By Nathan Ham
Last Friday, the House Select Committee on School Safety hosted a special meeting at Watauga High School to hear the public’s concerns about overall school safety needs in the High Country.
The committee is making several stops across the state in different regions to host these events in hopes of finding ways to increase school safety.
According to Watauga County Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott, those who spoke at the high school focused their concerns on the need for additional school resource officers and the desire to see support for mental health services for students.
There was also appreciation for the $35 million school safety grants from the Department of Public Instruction, but lots of people also would like to see those grants continued and expanded. The House Select Committee on School Safety settled on that amount of money to add to the state’s budget.
The largest chunks of that $35 million will see $10 million going towards mental health grants to add school counselors and nurses across the state and $12 million is going to school resource officer grants. Other things included in that extra budget money will be $5 million directed towards the creation of an anonymous tip line for students to report safety concerns, $3 million will go towards school safety equipment grants, $3 million is allocated to training for school-based mental health professionals and $2 million will be set aside for community organizations to provide grants for students in crisis.
According to the budget proposed by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, the $35 million comes in well short of the $130 million that Gov. Cooper recommended for the upcoming budget yet.
“North Carolina’s classrooms must be safe and supportive places for educators to work and children to learn,” said Cooper. “We should address both classroom security and youth mental health needs and my budget takes meaningful steps to prevent school violence and protect teachers and students.”
Locally, Dr. Elliott added in a few thoughts of his own at the committee meeting.
“I added my suggestion that school systems have as much flexibility as possible with state funds for school safety needs, that the grant funds are recurring, NC Education Lottery fund allocations to schools be evaluated and increased, and that funds from the state for safety needs not be determined or distributed based on the economic tier system, Elliott said.
According to Elliott, Watauga County is a Tier III county, meaning that the county does not often qualify for needs-based funding from the state.
Speakers on the agenda included:
Melissa Searcy, 1st grade teacher at Blowing Rock, 29 years teaching experience
Christian Hughes, Watauga County high school student, member of student council and President of Key Club
Chris Hughes, member of Watauga County School Safety Committee and parent of Watauga County high school student
Dr. Scott Elliott, Watauga School Superintendent
Jay Fenwick, member of Watauga County School Board
Jason Cornett, member of Watauga County School Board
Ron Henries, member of Watauga County School Board
Perry Yates, Watauga County Commissioner
Others in attendance included Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman, Watauga County Commissioner Jimmy Hodges, Rep. Jonathan Jordan, Sen. Deana Ballard, Watauga County Clerk of Court Diane Deal, Watauga County Commissioner candidates Tommy Sofield and Tim Hodges, Watauga County Sheriff’s candidate David Searcy and Watauga County School Board candidate Danny Watts.