Lincoln schools among safest
Crime increased more than 12 percent in North Carolina schools last year, while the number of weapons and drugs found on campuses also climbed, according to an annual state report released this week.
But locally, Lincoln County schools enjoyed a low level of criminal incidents on school campuses.
Superintendent Jim Watson told attendants at the Lincolnlton/Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce retreat Saturday that Lincoln schools had the seventh lowest incidence of violence in the state.
More than 90 percent of last yearâ€™s incidents involved students possessing drugs or alcohol, assaulting school staff without causing serious injury or carrying a weapon other than a gun or powerful explosive.
State officials said schools have installed metal detectors and done a better job policing, but they also plan to do more.
â€œThis yearâ€™s numbers indicate a need for more detailed analysis of the causes behind the increase,â€ State Superintendent Patricia Willoughby said in a written statement.
The report tracks 17 categories of incidents, ranging from bomb threats to robberies to sexual offenses. Overall, the state reported 9,800 crimes or acts of violence in 2003-04, up from 8,548 incidents the previous year. The rate per 1,000 students increased from 6.581 to 7.371.
The increase surpassed enrollment growth across the state, and the total is the second-highest since the report was first released after the 1993-94 school year. In 2001-02, there were 10,951 acts, or 8.3 per 1,000 students.
Some state officials and activists questioned certain statistics reported by North Carolinaâ€™s 115 school districts.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, for instance, reported about as many total incidents as Guilford County and less than half the total reported by Wake County. That raised doubts since Charlotte-Mecklenburg has 114,000 students, while Guilford has 66,000 and Wake has 109,000.
â€œIt seems a little bit unrealistic,â€ said Cheryl Pulliam of the nonprofit Charlotte Advocates for Education. â€œIt could relate to how diligent people are in reporting and whether the definition of the crime is consistent across the state.â€
Charlotte-Mecklenburg spokeswoman Jerri Haigler said sheâ€™s sure the districtâ€™s numbers are accurate.
â€œWe have worked very hard to fully understand the reporting measures and what the state is asking for and to train our staff,â€ Haigler said.
The district reported 467 incidents involving drugs, alcohol or weapons other than guns, up from 351 the previous year. Haigler said the district has added five security guards and now does random metal detector scans each day, including searches in middle schools.
â€œWe have increased our efforts and have been even more vigilant, and thatâ€™s why we found more,â€ she said.
Overall, Charlotte-Mecklenburg â€” the stateâ€™s largest district â€” reported 537 incidents, more than any other system except Wake County. Its rate of 4.747 incidents per 1,000 students was one of the stateâ€™s 20 lowest.
By comparison, Guilford reported 497 incidents, or 7.639 per 1,000 students. And Wake had 1,081 incidents, or 9.955 per 1,000 kids.
â€œItâ€™s unusual that there would be that big of a difference,â€ said Marvin Pittman, director of the state Department of Public Instructionâ€™s division of school improvement, whose office handles the report.
â€œIt would cause you to wonder why. I just donâ€™t know without doing more work or more study, and Iâ€™m sure thatâ€™s something our safe schools section will do.â€
Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotte.comby Staff Reports