Apex, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday announced the creation of the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools to examine the best school security programs nationwide and determine which fit best in school districts across the state.
The center, part of the state Department of Public Safety, will be headed by Kym Martin, an Apex mother of four and a former educator.
"We have to do everything we can to protect our students in our schools," McCrory said at a news conference at Apex Middle School.
"We have to be aware of alcohol and drug abuse that often is occurring in our schools and can result in violence," he said. "We have to be worried about potential domestic violence that spills over – just like it does on corporate campuses – on school campuses. We have to be aware of gang activity that does exist in many of our schools in North Carolina."
DPS Secretary Kieran Shanahan said the center will take a critical, dispassionate view and of the issue of school security. He emphasized that the center will be a collaboration with local districts and boards of education.
“We’re not here to tell schools and communities what to do," Shanahan said. "We want to work with schools, communities and families on an individual basis to meet their localized needs.”
Eight public forums will be held in April, starting April 9 in Edenton, to gather input before initial recommendations are made to the governor in May.
McCrory said the center could propose legislation and policy changes. The cost of the center wasn't detailed, but he said it would be included in his proposed budget, which he will announce on Wednesday.
"To ensure our schools are safe for our children, our teachers, our administrators and support personnel," he said, "the Center for Safer Schools will bring together in one place all the tools that North Carolina communities need to safeguard our children while providing them with a quality education."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos said mental health issues will need to be addressed when discussing school security.
"(We want) to help staff and help identify risk factors and early-warning signals that are necessary to identify potentially violent behavior," Wos said. "(We want) to ensure better access to mental health services inside of our schools through improving training and innovation."
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, applauded the creation of the school safety center, but he said some steps can be taken immediately without reviewing how other locales handle issues.
"We need more school resource officers," Stein said. "We know schools need plans to deal with these types of emergencies, and we know they need to train in those plans."
Martin, the wife of North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin, will have an annual salary of $72,000. State officials touted her experience working with special-needs students, as executive director of a DHHS panel that implemented services for children with developmental disabilities and as manager of multidisciplinary pilot program for college students on the rule of law.