Why is school safety always the first on the chopping block by school boards and superintendents when schools cut budgets? Do they really care about school safety?
It has been my experience that school board members, superintendents, and others in education are very caring people. They care about kids. And they care about their students’ safety.
School Safety First for Budget Cuts
It is often unexplainable, though, why such caring individuals too often look at school resource officers (SROs), school police, school security staff, prevention programs, and other school safety resources in the first round of budget cuts when they face a financial burden.
- Washington, DC: Suburban schools to see cuts in police presence Police officers in the D.C. area’s two largest schools will cut police in half next fall.
- Indianapolis, IN: School police may feel IPS cuts Indiana’s largest school district could cut nearly 20 percent of its school police officers to help balance the budget.
- Edwardsville, IL: Schools prepare for worst: Districts across metro-east cutting budgets, programs, staff Edwardsville is freezing administrators’ salaries and laying off staff, including all the school safety officers, who will be replaced by monitors.
- Arizona: State-funded school resource officers face uncertain future
There is no blank check in any organization, especially in today’s schools. I recognize the belt is tightening everywhere.
Penny Wise, Pound Foolish on School Safety Cuts
But unfortunately, school leaders who fail to really do a cost-benefit analysis of cutting school safety staff (central office coordinators, front line school police and security officers, prevention programs, etc. in particular) fail to see the long-term costs. The saying “penny wise, pound foolish” truly applies here. It surprises me how so many otherwise administratively and politically wise school board members and superintendents do not see how they are setting their schools up for higher safety risks, and themselves up for greater school-community relations and potential legal liability.
I average weekly calls from attorneys preparing to file lawsuits against school administrators and boards for negligent security and supervision issues. They’re looking for expert witnesses to support their cases. And there are a growing number of qualified experts to provide such litigation support, which means attorneys will know what questions to ask in depositions and trials, what documents to seek, etc. to make their case.
Parents are also better educated on what to ask about school safety. Survey your school community and you’ll likely find the only thing more important to parents than academic achievement at school is the safety of their children at school. They won’t want to hear attempted justifications of budget woes as reasons why they cut the already limited resources they have for protecting students and staff.
I receive any more calls from local print and TV reporters who are also asking tough questions about school safety. Many of them are not only reporters, they are parents, so they understand school safety concerns from a personal and professional perspective. And they, too, are much more educated on what questions to ask, which documents to request for public records, and who to interview than they were a decade ago.
Board and Administration Safety Priority is in Their Budget, Not Their Rhetoric
A respected university professor friend, an expert in public policy, once said to me, “As a school board member or superintendent, you can tell me all you want school safety is a priority to you. But your priority is most evident in your budget, not in your words.”
Take your school district’s budget for school resource officers (SROs), school police, and/or school security personnel. Divide the overall school district operating budget by that number. Chances are, you’ll find the percentage spent on these (and other) school safety programs are very tiny percentages of the overall school district operating budget.
Or take the budget for school safety and divide it by the number of students in your district. Again, there is a good chance the per-student dollars spent on school safety is likely very small. Add in everyone in the school (students, teachers, support staff, etc.) and the per-person amount of money spent on school safety gets even smaller.
In the Poudre School District in Colorado, “Survey takers said they would oppose reductions to school safety and security but would support certain reductions in other areas such as professional development, transportation services and nutritional services, among others.” It is interesting to me that parents and the community would rather see transportation and nutrition services cut over safety and security!
So if school safety is truly a priority to your school-community, you better make it clear to school leaders that you will not support school safety being put first on the chopping block. The school-community in the Poudre School District in Colorado did, and while this is no guarantee, chances are school board members and superintendents will think twice before cutting school safety when they know the school-community will not tolerate such cuts!
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