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Woody Marshall/News & Record 

Penn-Griffin School for the Arts graduate Breayan Sedano-Roman, wipes away the tears as he thanks his mother during his senior address at the graduation ceremony in the Koury Auditorium on the GTCC campus in Jamestown, N.C., on Thursday, June 6, 2019.

Greensboro traffic safety campaign aims to bring back red-light cameras

GREENSBORO — Call them a big safety measure or Big Brother, red-light cameras cause strong reactions.

But the city of Greensboro is making reducing traffic deaths one of its top priorities and it is rolling out a safety campaign that includes the return of red-light cameras.

For those who don’t know much about them, red-light cameras monitor intersections and snap a photo of any car that passes through after the traffic signal has turned red. Some time later, the alleged violator receives a ticket in the mail with a fine to pay or contest in court.

Adam Fischer, the city of Greensboro’s transportation director, has a report from the last time the city operated red-light cameras about 15 years ago that shows the number of red-light violations decreased at the 18 intersections where cameras were installed. That’s because drivers became more aware of the cameras and cautious as a result.

The report, prepared in 2004, shows that monthly citations dropped from 3,080 in 2001, when the program began, to 2,565 not long before the program was shut down.

Greensboro ended its program in 2005 when courts ruled that North Carolina law requires a city to give 90% of the revenue it collects from such programs to the local school system. Greensboro was paying the company operating the cameras more than 10% of every $50 fine for a red-light violation so the finances didn’t work out.

Fischer said that bringing red-light cameras back will be complicated because city governments need to cooperate with school systems to make the financing add up.

“We would look to offer this to City Council as a policy within the next six months,” Fischer said. “More than likely they would want us to approach the school system to work out revenue sharing. It could take up to a year or longer to implement the program if that’s what the elected officials would like to pursue. I’m going to highly recommend that we should pursue this.”

The City Council has already adopted a resolution that spotlights the new “Vision Zero” campaign to reduce the number of traffic deaths in the city from nearly 40 a year to zero.

The long-range plan is designed as “a data-driven, interdisciplinary approach to dramatically reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries through infrastructure improvements, policy changes, enforcement, education, and community engagement,” according to a May news release from the city.

Fischer said the city has already engaged the community through informal surveys about red-light cameras.

City officials surveyed people recently at two local Walmart stores and online. Fifty-eight percent of the 774 people who took part agreed that the city should implement a red-light camera program, 36% were against the idea, and 6% were neutral or had no comment.

When Greensboro first implemented the cameras, reaction varied and many people said they felt the system was a kind of invasive state surveillance.

Fisher said data showed during the last period of red-light cameras that the city saw a small increase in the number of rear-end collisions when people hit the brakes to stop for red lights. But he said the most dangerous wrecks are those that occur when a car runs a red light and hits another in the side.

“We need to get back into the program to let people know we are serious about zero fatalities,” Fischer said. “And that’s one of the most dangerous things you can do is to run a red light. Some other countries like Australia, Switzerland that are taking their Vision Zero seriously, they have much more severe penalties for red lights and for speeding.”

And once you get used to those red-light cameras, the city may have another traffic monitor to keep you on your toes: Fischer said speeding cameras may be next.

“It depends on how serious the public is going to take Vision Zero and whether they would support automated speed enforcement,” he said. “Some countries that do this have seen fatalities go down.”

In the meantime, Fischer will begin having informal discussions with council members to gauge their reaction and bring the issue to a vote within the next few months.

Any city action would also need a financial agreement from the Guilford County Board of Education.

Chad Roberts / H. Scott Hoffmann/News & Record  

Greensboro shut down its red-light camera program in 2005 after courts ruled that North Carolina law requires a city to give 90% of its revenue from such programs to the local school system. The ruling made it financially impractical for the city to continue using the cameras to capture infractions.

New charter schools in Greensboro, High Point gain approval to open in 2020

GREENSBORO — Two new charter schools gained approval Thursday to open in Guilford County in 2020.

Revolution Academy is slated for the Greensboro area and Robert J. Brown Leadership Academy (HP) for High Point. Both must successfully complete a planning year before being given their charter and allowed to enroll students. If they complete the process, they would join 11 other charter schools already operating in Guilford County.

Charter schools in North Carolina are tuition-free and publicly financed. Generally, they are founded and created by nonprofit organizations with their own board of directors who receive a charter from the state to operate. They get flexibility on some typical major requirements for public schools and in return are subject to some extra accountability from the state about meeting certain goals.

The State Board of Education voted Thursday to approve the two Guilford schools along with eight others throughout North Carolina. All were recommended by the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board. The state school board sent back to the charter board two schools it had recommended be approved for further review.

Revolution Academy is headed by Mary Catherine Sauer. She is a former school board candidate and the founder of two other local charter schools: Cornerstone Charter Academy: CFA and Piedmont Classical High School.

Revolution Academy expects to open with 398 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. It plans to eventually enroll students through eighth grade.

The school bills itself as traditional and “back to basics,” with all students learning cursive handwriting and wearing uniforms.

Other highlighted features include “an optional early release kindergarten day, recess twice a day in k-5, a move-up math program, Latin and logic in middle school, formal grammar in all grades, and an enrichment special where students will study topics such as keyboarding, financial literacy, and etiquette.”

The school’s application lists The Church of 68 at 300 N.C. 68 in Greensboro as a planned temporary location for its first school year. Organizers said in the application that they are looking for another location in the Greensboro area to house a permanent, newly constructed school.

Robert J. Brown Leadership Academy (HP) is looking to take a “whole student” approach. According to its application, that means balancing reading, math, science and technology with leadership development and learning effective decision-making skills.

Students will learn, “how to make responsible decisions and life choices, how to be accountable for their own lives, and how to be civic minded community leaders,” organizers wrote in the application.

The school plans to locate at 1400 Brentwood St. in High Point, in “the old Brentwood School.” It expects to start as a kindergarten through second-grade school with 300 students and eventually enroll older elementary and middle school students.

James E. McNeil is the president of The Children’s Legacy, the nonprofit group that applied for the charter. It plans to contract with RJB Education Equity Foundation to manage the school. RJB also operates Phoenix Academy, another charter school in High Point.

An interesting article in today's paper

Thank you: North Carolina honors veterans in special Raleigh ceremony on D-Day’s 75th anniversary. Page A4

Educators, supporters ask Guilford commissioners for more money for schools

GREENSBORO — Guilford County officials heard Thursday from several dozen teachers and other school supporters urging them to provide millions of dollars in additional funding for school repairs and other needs.

Speakers told the Guilford County Board of Commissioners that the county administration’s proposed $212.7 million allotment for the schools was not sufficient to provide adequately for the system’s thousands of students.

Teachers spoke of poorly maintained and deteriorating buildings, and classrooms without heat in cold weather and air-conditioning in the summer.

“That’s a choice that we’re making. It’s not just happening; it’s a choice,” said Riley Driver, a teacher at Jamestown Middle School.

Those speaking on behalf of the schools and their importance to the community included Dot Kearns, who served as a commissioner and later as a school board member, and Action Greensboro representative Cecelia Thompson.

The teachers’ group Guilford County Association of Educators led the outcry, handing out mock-up “work orders” to fellow protesters aimed at encouraging the board to raise the tax rate, if necessary, to provide adequate support for the schools.

Todd Warren, Guilford teacher and educators association president, said that this year alone the schools had $30 million in basic maintenance needs that the current proposal does not address.

The budget recommended by county manager Marty Lawing would increase the school system’s current operating and capital funding by about $4.1 million. School leaders requested about $6 million more for capital maintenance and repair projects.

The board did not comment during the hearing or engage in debate about the issue after the hearing closed.

Instead, commissioners scheduled a work session Monday afternoon to consider Lawing’s recommended $627.4 million spending plan that includes school funding among other county services.

At the outset of Thursday’s meeting, the board tabled another major topic that had been on the evening’s agenda — providing money for the Cure Violence initiative to help Greensboro neighborhoods plagued by violent crime.

Based in Chicago, the nonprofit Cure Violence group relies on techniques to thwart assaults and killings that are similar to strategies that physicians use in fighting epidemic diseases.

Group leaders work as mediators to identify a community’s most violent offenders, then help them turn their lives around and away from violent lifestyles.

Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston, who is a major advocate for the program, distributed violent crime statistics for 2018 and this year from the Greensboro Police Department and said he hoped the data would help his fellow commissioners focus on the need for such anti-violence measures.

Alston said the figures showed the majority of homicide victims were African American. For example, the report showed that in 2018, black residents accounted for 32 of Greensboro’s 35 homicide victims, he said — 91 percent of the victims.

In other action Thursday, the commissioners:

  • Approved next year’s budget of just more than $7 million for the Greensboro/Guilford Tourism Development Authority, which promotes the hospitality industry and travel to the area.

The authority receives much of its revenue from Guilford’s 3% occupancy tax, which makes the county government financially responsible for the group. Because of that, the commissioners must approve the authority’s annual budget before it can take effect.

  • Authorized $1.8 million to replace an HVAC system that heats, cools and ventilates Guilford’s public health building on East Green Drive in High Point.

The board awarded the contract to low bidder H.M. Kern Corp. of Greensboro. County staff said the building’s existing HVAC equipment is about 35 years old and “past its expected service life.”

  • Set aside an additional $5 million in the county’s current budget to cover higher-than-expected expenses from the county employee health plan. The board recently heard reports from insurance advisers about the need for revisions to rein in the plan’s increasing costs.
  • Gave the go-ahead on a $434,000 contract with Wake Forest University to continue a joint project with Guilford public health officials who are researching treatment for resistant forms of the venereal disease gonorrhea.

Money for the project comes from a grant awarded by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Extended by one year a $162,000 contract with WellPath to provide medical care for youth being held at the Guilford Juvenile Detention Center.

WellPath has provided services under contract at the detention center since July 2014.