02/06/08 — Officials ask why courts trumped security

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Officials ask why courts trumped security

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 6, 2008 1:45 PM

In January, after a Mount Olive Middle School student was arrested for carrying an unloaded handgun onto campus, members of the Wayne County Board of Education voiced their concerns about the security situation at several schools.

In particular, officials explained that they are worried about the inability of teachers at many of the county's schools to lock their classroom doors from the inside.

At the time, they indicated that they have asked for the funding to fix the problem -- estimated to be between $30 and $300 a door, which number more than 20 in some schools -- but that it has not yet been forthcoming.

At the same meeting, though, the school board went ahead and approved plans to replace six tennis courts at both Southern Wayne and Eastern Wayne high schools, and two tennis courts at both Charles B. Aycock and Rosewood high schools.

Now the school board is asking the county for approval to draw down $444,950 -- in addition to the $1.8 million already included in its budget this year -- from its sales tax funds to pay for those projects.

The commissioners, however, took no action on the request Tuesday because, according to County Manager Lee Smith, school officials have not yet submitted an appropriate budget amendment to the county, even though work has already begun.

And, while it's mostly a formality, Smith admitted, the request drew the ire of the commissioners at their meeting Tuesday morning.

"What's more important?" Commissioner Jack Best said. "It appears to me they want to blame the county commissioners for not funding the security system when they've got the money for the tennis courts. Which one do you vote for? Protection or tennis courts?"

Other commissioners posed the same question.

"It's a concern to me," Atlas Price said. "You've got a security need and you recognize a security need, and you first work on tennis courts and make no effort to do anything about your security problem? It just bothers me as a concerned citizen."

But, he acknowledged that even though the commission has to sign off on the use of sales tax funds, it doesn't really have any authority to influence how those funds are used.

County attorney Borden Parker did note, though, that the money planned for the tennis courts could have been used to address the security needs.

"It's their money and they can spend it like they want," Best said. "But it seems to me it's like giving a kid an allowance. Somebody's got to hold their hand so they don't spend all their money on candy. And I don't want to hold their hand."