Editorial: Local school safety efforts are more affordable

Apr. 11, 2013 @ 07:47 PM

Don’t get us wrong: we want kids to be safer in our schools.

We’re just not sure it should cost $34 million to make that happen.

Bipartisan legislation approved in the state House of Representatives this week would provide money so that North Carolina school districts can hire police officers and counselors while they install shiny new panic alarms.

About $4 million of the price tag, from grants, would help (but not entirely) pay for districts to get those alarms for classrooms.

The biggest chunk, $30 million, would serve as matching grants through mid-2015 for districts to hire police officers to bolster law enforcement presence in the state’s elementary and middle schools. That money could also be used to hire more guidance counselors and psychologists.

In spirit, we applaud this approach. We’re pleased that our state lawmakers are working together in common cause in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut.

But we’re worried that, simultaneously, it’s too much and not enough.

Too much in the sense that our schools haven’t proven to be all that dangerous, and we certainly hope they stay that way. We’re not convinced that putting an armed cop in every school immunizes our children against the frenzied will of a lunatic, no matter how much it might make us feel better to know that an officer is there.

Not enough in the sense that legislators are pitching an idea that doles out partial funding to school districts into 2015 and then, as is so often the case, it falls to the districts to scramble to find money in their budgets (which are prone to legislative cuts in the best of years) to keep those positions filled.

What’s the point of hiring all these people in the short term and then abandoning the effort a few years down the line?

In the interest of doing something, our legislators actually may do nothing more than leave less affluent school districts paying the tab for services they don’t even need.

Since the Newtown incident, local school districts throughout North Carolina – Durham, Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools among them – have added resource officers and revisited their emergency procedures. They’re doing what they can with what they’ve already got. We certainly hope that’s enough, because the N.C. Senate may be hard-pressed to approve even the $34 million proposed by Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes and other sponsors.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said in an Associated Press article that the cost might be too high, given the state’s fiscal condition.

“I would look for ideas to be generated from the schools on what they are doing and what they can do to make them safer,” Tillman said.

We think that might be the best approach.