After two loaded guns were recovered at Ashley High School in recent weeks, parents across New Hanover County have called for measures to improve school security.
Concerns over school security aren’t new or necessarily unique to New Hanover County, but the latest incidents have prompted some parents like Ashley Loney to push for the installation of metal detectors at the high school.
“I’m going to continue to kind of crusade through this because I don’t know what else to do at this point,” Loney told the StarNews earlier this month. “There are a lot of people that don’t know what the heck to do, but actually want to see some change.”
The incident and subsequent response are reminiscent to some extent of the communitywide discussions that were sparked in fall 2021 by a shooting at New Hanover High School. Community leaders came together with students, parents and Wilmington and New Hanover County officials to develop a plan aimed at addressing violence and connecting students and their families with community resources.
The three-year plan was unanimously approved in January 2022 by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. When the plan was adopted, its price tag landed just north of $39.5 million. The plan was referred to as the Community Violence Action Plan when it was approved, but since then the county has shifted its approach, renaming it the Community Building Plan, according to Alex Riley, New Hanover County’s communications and outreach coordinator.
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What does the plan fund?
The plan funds initiatives tied to several county priorities, which include connecting residents with wrap-around services, community communication, relationship building, the elimination of education barriers and at-risk training and intervention.
These initiatives include:
Elements program expansion – Enabled the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office to increase the capacity of the program, allowing in students on the waitlist. The expansion included seven new youth intervention specialists and three case workers. The expansion was allocated more than $2.7 million over the three-year period.
Expansion of Too Good for Violence Program – Allowed the Community Justice Services department to bring its services to the high school level. The expansion includes two new case managers and two program assistants. The initiative was allocated more than $853,000 over a period of three years.
Port City United – Allowed New Hanover County to establish its own version of Durham’s Bull City United. The new department is based on Cure Violence and received broad-scale funding in the plan. That included more than $2.6 million to establish the department, more than $5.5 million to fund the department’s Community Resource Coordinators, more than $3.6 million to fund a call center, and more than $886,000 to upfit office space.
Elementary school resource officers – Added four school resource officers to elementary schools. Previously, elementary schools shared officers. More than $1 million over three years is going to add a school resource officer to Snipes Academy of Arts and Design, Forest Hills Global Elementary, Rachel Freeman School of Engineering and International School at Gregory.
Northside grocery store – Partnered with Northside Food Co-op to bring a grocery store to a food desert in Wilmington’s Northside community. The county initially committed $2.45 million toward the store’s design and construction.
Boarding school design – Helped fund the design of a new school operated by Leading Into New Communities. The school will concentrate on those between 16 and 21 years of age with previous criminal involvement. Participants will obtain their GED or high school diploma along with vocational or technical training. The county committed $150,000 toward the design of the school.
Threat assessment training – Provided threat assessment training to 114 school resource and parks resource officers. The training provided increased awareness and response to a variety of school violence threats along with prevention and management of threats.
How is the plan funded?
Although county leaders initially considered tapping money from the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the initiatives are funded through a mix of sources, including American Rescue Plan Act funds, the county’s fund balance and its escrow interest and principal funds, among others.
How much has the county spent?
By the close of this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, the county will have spent approximately $12 million on the Community Building Plan, according to Riley.
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How has the funding plan changed?
The proposed school transportation initiative was not implemented after it was deemed not needed based on other efforts.
The construction and opening of the Northside grocery store and the boarding school have been extended from the original schedule. The grocery store is expected to open in fall 2024 or later while design work for the boarding school is ongoing.
The budget for Port City United has increased amid needs for staffing and additional resources.
The budget for the community resource coordinators decreased because actual costs were lower than originally estimated.
Legal Aid Second Chance and an additional district attorney position were added as priorities by the board of commissioners to provide guidance through the legal system and manage caseloads in gang-related crimes.
How much money is yet to be spent?
In next year’s recommended budget, $11.8 million is allocated for the Community Building Plan.
Work on the budget for fiscal year 2024 through 2025 hasn’t started yet, but it’s expected that the funding amount will be similar to next year’s allocation with potential increases to the Northside Grocery Store and boarding school, according to Riley.
Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: New Hanover spends millions to improve student safety, school security