In what could be a precedent-setting policy for Charleston-area schools, North Charleston City Council agreed Thursday to permanently post police officers in all public elementary schools in the city.
Police in schools
North Charleston will staff all public elementary schools in the city, and one in Ladson, with one police officer starting in January, when classes resume.The initiative will cost the city an estimated $1.5 million yearly. Public middle and high schools already have police stationed there, known as school resource officers.
The initiative came in response to the massacre of 20 children and 6 adults at a Connecticut elementary school last week, by a lone gunman who killed himself as police arrived.
Details of deal for hospital, vacant Shipwatch Square
In the deal to redevelop the area around Rivers and McMillan avenues, North Charleston is selling the 18-acre shopping center site known as Shipwatch Square, which the city has been struggling to redevelop for about 15 years, and the 24-acre former naval hospital across the street, which the city purchased two months ago for $2 million.The hoped-for outcome will be a supermarket in a part of North Charleston where grocery-shopping options are limited, as well as new housing for seniors, parks and new businesses.The city expects to recoup its costs in the $9.2 million deal, which includes $1 million in incentives aimed at luring a supermarket to the site.
Mayor Keith Summey and Public Safety Committee Chairman Bob King both said something needs to be done to restrict access to military-style weapons, and criticized a proposal in the South Carolina Legislature to arm teachers.
In order to post police at 21 elementary schools attended by North Charleston residents, including Ladson Elementary School outside the city limits, the city will need to hire 21 officers and find about $1.5 million in the city budget to pay their yearly salaries and benefits, plus another half-million to equip them.
Summey said he thinks that can be done without a tax increase.
At a sometimes emotional council meeting, most officials embraced Summey’s plan, while others called for more study and expressed concern about the price.
“This is what needs to be done,” said Councilman Todd Olds, choking up as he spoke. “Let not the life of a teacher or innocent children be taken over cost concerns.”
Council members Rhonda Jerome, Ed Astle and Bobby Jameson expressed some concerns about the plan but joined the rest of council in voting to approve it, which would put police in elementary schools when winter break ends in January.
“I don’t think this is an over-reaction to what has occurred,” Summey said. “I don’t think I could live with myself if we sat back and did nothing.”
Dorchester District 2 Superintendent Joe Pye already has said that the district’s eight elementary schools outside North Charleston will need to follow suit with similar security, but he doesn’t know where the money will come from.
North Charleston pays for police in public middle and high schools already, but outside the city limits the Dorchester 2 district pays such costs.
Most North Charleston schools are part of the Charleston School District. Superintendent Nancy McGinley has not taken a position on police in elementary schools, but already has police in middle and high schools. Mount Pleasant and Charleston city officials have said they are reviewing school security measures.
Charleston County School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats told North Charleston council members that they were doing the right thing, and that providing police is an appropriate municipal responsibility.
“Protecting your citizens is a core service,” she said.
In another decision Thursday that could have lasting impact on the city, council approved plans to sell the vacant Shipwatch Square shopping center and former Navy hospital properties, both at Rivers and McMillan avenues, to a group that plans a grocery store, senior housing and other new development there.
The city will receive $8.2 million, representing roughly what the city spent on the properties. The development group Chicora Gardens Holdings LLC will also put up $1 million as an incentive to attract a major grocery store.
The money would be used to cover potential financial losses a grocery store might face during the first three years, but would otherwise return to the developer.
The former naval hospital complex located across the street from the shopping center property is to become the site of housing for seniors and health-care businesses. The city purchased the 10-story vacant hospital just two months ago, paying $2 million in a U.S. government auction.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.
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