The Guilford County Board of Commissioners and the Guilford County Board of Education are getting along very well after the county commissioners gave the schools some generous funding for the next 12 months.
However, in recent months, one issue that’s divided the two boards has been the question of $10 million that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved in 2018 to beef up school security.
Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad made the motion three years ago as something of an emergency response after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Several commissioners, past and present, were publicly critical this year of the schools’ failure to put that money to use quickly, while some school officials said that the former county manager – and other factors on the county’s side – slowed down the process.
After a high-profile incident in May in which a 14-year-old student at Southern Guilford High School was assaulted by a parent and students from another school, a lot of questions were raised regarding school security; and that, in turn, brought up questions about that $10 million and how long it has taken to spend it.
District 3 School Board Member Pat Tillman said it’s not helpful for school board members and commissioners to take shots at one another.
He said he thought that the school board could likely have done a better job with the $10 million – much of which now has been used. Some has been spent on school security, and some, with the commissioners’ consent, went toward dealing with COVID-19’s impact on the schools.
“I certainly don’t discount that we were a little slow,” Tillman said of the school board when it came to spending the $10 million.
However, he added that the Board of Education members and others wanted to be careful not to spend the money hastily or unwisely. He pointed to a cautionary tale from the Charlotte area where the school board in Mecklenburg County spent a lot of money quickly to enhance security in the school system there and ended up with all sorts of problems and a financial loss.
He also noted that at one point the county commissioners voted to establish a working group to look into the best use of the $10 million.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “Say spend it quickly and say we need a working group.”
Tillman also pointed out that, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things down in a big way in 2020 and 2021 and added to the time taken to spend the money.
“We were trying to reopen schools and turn 300 years of education on its head,” Tillman said of the exceptionally difficult past year and three months.
One of the complaints that the county commissioners have had is that the money could have been used for security cameras. A lot of the cameras currently in county schools aren’t working properly.
According to Tillman, security cameras wouldn’t have helped prevent what happened at Southern Guilford. He said cameras are better for piecing things together after an event than they are preventing them.
Tillman noted that security cameras would not likely have stopped the attack at Southern Guilford, which involved a parent coming in with a group and someone inside the school holding a door open for them.
Tillman, who was elected to the school board in 2016, said that he recently requested a timeline regarding the money. Interestingly, Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad made the same request of county staff.
Both men got the timeline but Tillman said that, due to the age and the level of complexity of the issue, he’s not sure any one person knows a whole story behind the money, but he added that he felt as though the commissioners and school board members could work together to see that the remainder of the $10 million is used effectively.