School boards and superintendents tell parents school safety is their top priority. But in some districts, they are not putting their money where their mouth is.
Budget Cuts Make Schools More Reactive on Safety
Charlotte-Mecklenberg’s school district superintendent is recommending $1 million in cuts to the district’s law enforcement division, according to a local news report. About 32 campus security associates will be laid off, along with the rapid response team that searches for weapons and conducts school safety audits.
These cuts are on top of cuts made last year resulting in the elimination of about 60 campus security staff.
School police chief Bud Cesena is quoted as saying, “The adults on campus have to take a more active role…in the things that the security associates did on a daily basis.”
While the chief understandably has to try to put a good face on an ugly situation, anyone with any school security experience — and for that matter, anyone who is awake and breathing — knows that the level of school safety will decline, not stay the same. Already overloaded principals and teachers under pressure to improve test scores are not going to be out proactively patrolling the restrooms during class time, doing safety audits, or scanning kids for weapons.
Budget Crisis or Leadership Crisis on School Safety?
A school board member from a Midwest district told me a couple of weeks ago, “We do not have a violence problem. We have a budget problem.” My first advice to him was to quickly knock on wood. My advice for his school-community is to tell their school board, or at least this member, to wake up and try to see the forest along with the trees.
No school district has a blank check for security or any other support service. The education community is under an unprecedented financial crunch and will likely remain there for many years. One report suggested it may be 10 years before education budgets bounce back just to their levels of several years ago.
But school board members and superintendents cannot fake and spin their way out of dealing with school security issues by hiding behind their paper-thin shield of “fiscal crisis.” In fact, it is during a time when society is under intense economic pressure that violence and related security risks will likely increase. We need only to look at the rash of shootings of law enforcement officers, the Tucson Congressional event attack, and multiple high-profile school attacks all in the last month alone.
Reversing Declining Enrollment and Credibility Starts with Safety
Public school systems are facing not only a fiscal crisis, but also a public credibility crisis. Underachieving schools, public scrutiny of education fiscal management, and political demands for education “reform” have left parents skeptical of leaders of even the best managed school districts.
Superintendents and board members who want to head off further declining enrollment, slow the pace of mounting support for charter and parental choice options, and reverse growing challenges to their credibility had best make school safety their first focus. And if school safety really is their priority, it will be reflected in their budgets, not just in their rhetoric.
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