The issue of school security in Guilford County has been on the front burner lately, and there’s been quite a bit of tension between school leaders and county leaders on the issue. 

This week, former Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips weighed in on the debate and offered a strong critique of the way school leaders had addressed security and how they had handled $10 million in funds for that purpose that the Board of Commissioners had approved in 2018.

“My experience over the past several years is that GCS [Guilford County Schools] leadership simply doesn’t consider the improvement of school security a top priority,” Phillips stated in an email to the Rhino Times. 

He said school leaders dragged their feet after the county voted to approve that $10 million to beef up school security.

“We literally had to beg for a request to allocate the $10 million we set aside for school security improvements in 2018,” Phillips wrote.  “Almost a year later we finally received a cryptic request that had zero details. When we repeatedly asked for more information they were offended that we had questions about specifics. Due to our continued frustrations over their complete disregard for making the issue a priority, we began talking to school safety firms ourselves – trying to learn about school security solutions (essentially doing the job of GCS administration and their board).”

School officials said that the situation regarding the money is much more complicated than the commissioners have been presenting, and they argue that one reason that much of the money has remained unspent is because former Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing held things up.

According to Phillips’ recollection of events in recent years – during which he was in the middle of the discussions – school system leaders continued to stall repeatedly after multiple requests from the county were made to address the growing concerns from many parents and students.

The former chairman wrote that, once the pandemic hit in early 2020, school officials requested that some of the  $10 million be spent for ventilation and HVAC improvements related to COVID-19 concerns.  

Phillips stated that the county commissioners ultimately agreed to allow $5 million for that purpose.

“If they haven’t received any of the funds they’ve apparently never had that work done,” Phillips said. “The county never releases funds until work is approved to begin or they are being reimbursed for work already completed.  Truth is, they were so obsessed with saddling our citizens with billions in debt over the past couple of years that they constantly took their eye off the ball where school security is concerned.”

One argument that Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras has made recently is that $10 million is a very limited amount when it comes to enhancing security across a large school system like Guilford County’s.  She said in one meeting with commissioners that she knows of a school system that needed $20 million just to fix the doors on one school building.

Phillips argues the schools could be doing more with what they have.

“Even though the commissioners tried to bring school security front and center in 2018 and thereafter the issue has, effectively, been a non-issue to GCS ever since,” Phillips wrote.  “Almost $5 million was also earmarked for radio communication system enhancements across all GCS campuses (a major security concern to this day). They’ve obviously dropped the ball on that need as well and are now conveniently suggesting that they’ve never received funds because of the past Board of Commissioners. The notion is laughable and disturbing, to say the least.  I’ve never seen more shameful finger pointing and passing the buck when things go wrong in the classrooms and hallways of our schools.”

Phillips added that school system leaders have “kept their collective heads in the sand on school security issues for years” and he stated that “our kids, teachers, and staff continue to pay the price.”