Is School Safety at the Education Funding Cliff? Part Two

Posted by on February 10, 2010

Yesterday’s “Education Funding Cliff” post  focused on school safety as one of the top areas typically hit by school district budget cuts.

Today, let’s take a look at what schools can and cannot afford to do with school safety during tight financial times.

School Safety Budget Cut “Do” and “Do Not” Tips

There will be times when school safety, like many other departments and programs in a school district, will face some budget cuts.  Sometimes it is just inevitable. 

Some of the “Do Nots” at a time of major school district budget cuts include:

  1. Do NOT hold school safety hostage. Too often we have seen school safety budget cuts used as political ploy in some local districts to pressure parents into passing school levy and bond issues.  Do Not put school safety at the top of the budget cutting list simply to use it as a political pawn.
  2. Do NOT make cuts without administrator and safety staff input.  Boards and superintendents should get input from district and building administrators, and school safety staff, as to options for how to approach budget cuts.  They may be able to identify critical staffing, programmatic, and other items to avoid cutting, while pointing out lower priority areas where budgets can be trimmed.
  3. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  If there are some prevention programs, security expenditures, or emergency planning initiatives that have been under-performing, do not take a broad brush stroke and eliminate everything.   Get rid of things that are not effective, but keep those people and programs that are working well.

Some of the “Do” school safety items during tough budget times:

  1. Do conduct annual internal performance audits/reviews of school safety prevention, intervention, security, and emergency preparedness staff, programs, and initiatives.  Engage outside experts to audit school safety programs and strategies every three to five years so school leaders can have a strategic plan for school safety. Doing so will help keep budgets in line and program management focused when finances are good, as well as when finances are bad.
  2. Do look at cutting school safety as a last resort, not as a first option.  Too often, we see school safety, security, and policing areas first up on the chopping block.  Remember that the number one concern of parents is the safety of their child – a concern even greater than academic achievement.  Try to keep safety measures intact without cuts or, in the worst case scenario, as an area last to be cut.
  3. Do try to keep people in place over equipment.  Security technology is a supplement to, but not a substitute for, a more comprehensive school safety program.  Keeping or adding security equipment as a means to substitute for people (security staff, school resource officers, etc.)  cut out of the budget may temporarily create the appearance of a softer adverse impact on safety, but in the long haul it will prove less effective.  The first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly-alert staff and student body — the “people” part of school safety.

Where Outside Consultants and Services Can Help

Contracted services may seem like a cheaper way to go than staffing security officers in-house, but lower costs do not always equate to equal or higher quality staff.  For example, private contracted security is often known for higher turnover in personnel, under-trained staff, and other lower quality services.

Outside school safety consultants can help districts that cannot afford, or do not truly need, their own in-house security director and/or department.  Oftentimes my company is contracted by smaller and mid-sized school districts (having a few to a few dozen schools) to do security assessments, emergency planning evaluations, professional development training, and other technical assistance services.  They do so to be able to tap into expert resources in school safety that can provide them with a strategic plan for the next three to five years, filling the gap created if they otherwise chose to have no internal staff and to just do nothing about school safety.

The Bottom Line

School leaders need to exercise caution when cutting budgets for school safety prevention, intervention, security, school policing, and school emergency planning.  While there may be short-term benefits, there could be long-term greater risk for legal liability.  And there could be huge damage to school-community relations if something happens which could have been prevented by the school safety staff or programs axed from the budget by boards and superintendents.  

Ken Trump

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