NHC Board of Education, County Commission reveal results of survey addressing safety in schools, community

Public input survey highlights citizens feelings on safety in schools, community
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 6:11 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Members of the New Hanover County Board of Education and New Hanover County Board of Commissioners discussed results of a public input survey seeking feedback on community and school safety at a joint meeting held Tuesday afternoon.

The special meeting between the two boards allowed the groups to collaborate and discuss several issues facing New Hanover County families. Other topics on the agenda included teacher assistant pay, mental health care for students and staff, American Rescue Plan fund allocation, and updates on the community violence intervention plan.

Of the 2,240 survey responses received, 80% of respondents reported they felt safe in their neighborhood but fewer than 17% felt all New Hanover County Schools were safe.

Bullying and emergency communication were chief concerns, and most people responded that they didn’t know how to access resources like counseling.

The results showed a lot of people didn’t feel comfortable reporting suspicious or inappropriate activity to law enforcement or school officials. Less than a third of respondents believed corrective action would be taken and their identity would be protected if they made a report.

A complete breakdown of the survey results can be found here.

“The responses we received have reaffirmed previous conversations we’ve had with community leaders, educators, students, families and others in our area about the need for more support to address matters before they become violent,” said New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet. “We plan to use this data to help refine what areas we need to address in our current framework and continue to develop strategies for how to help our children and families moving forward.”

The survey results will be used to shape how leaders will address community and school safety moving forward. Community-based meetings continue to be held to gather input and student focus groups are planned for the coming weeks.

“Seeing the lack of trust in the school system, lack of trust in the sheriff’s department, that is really hard to see. I think it’s important to listen and take stock of what that means for the school system. We have to focus on ways that we can improve,” said school board member Nelson Beaulieu. “We’re gonna look at those results and figure out how we can improve communication and how we can make sure that we are addressing bullying in the school setting and making sure that our students are safe, it’s absolutely going to be something we used to inform any future decision making.”

Commissioners were last briefed by staff on the community violence plan on November 15. On Tuesday the county manager explained they’re now estimating the first proposal for late January, which is a month or so later than they previously anticipated getting the process started.

The county manager says the delay is because they’re waiting on an audit from the local government commission. They don’t want to ask the commissioners to commit to using their fund balance to fund a portion of the plan until their audit comes back.

That first proposal will include expanding the work of nonprofits, school resource officers, case management and communication improvements like a call center.

This week leaders also learned it will also include a measure to develop a full service grocery for the Northside to complement the Northside Food Co-op.

When the community violence plan was first announced, the county manager was granted access to a $350 million pot of money from the sale of the hospital to fund it. However, this fall, commissioners asked for staff to present formal budget proposals each step of the way and consider other funding sources, rather than just using the hospital account.

The county manager says the team has found a combined $37 million in alternative funding to help foot the $89 million bill for the comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan is divided up into four priorities: wraparound services, community communication, relationship building/elimination of educational barriers, and at-risk training and intervention.

County staff plans to present $3.3 million in budget amendments next month, and hopes to begin its 2022 initiatives in the spring.

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