School security costs will rise

The latest mass shooting at a school, this one in a town of 12,000 people near the Texas Gulf Coast, reinforces the unfortunate fact that schools would be wise to increase their budgets to provide more security on campus — including trained law enforcement officers.

Though the chances of an attack by a gunman at any particular school remain exceedingly small, that is no comfort when one does occur and several people are killed or wounded. If current trends continue, these attacks, typically committed by alienated young men, are not going to stop any time soon. This will compel the schools to increase their security — and their expenses.

Some numbers on the potential costs are starting to come in, and taxpayers had better be ready to pony up or find other parts of budgets where officials can reduce spending.

In Lee County’s rural school district, which surrounds Tupelo, officials have proposed having a trained law enforcement officer at each of its six schools. They would be more than security guards: The proposal calls for the officers to have at least three years’ experience, and they would have authority to make arrests.

The sheriff and school superintendent estimated that salaries, training and equipment for these officers would cost more than $1.8 million over five years — which is $360,000 per year; or $60,000 annually per location. The sheriff and superintendent would like the county and the school district to split those costs evenly.

The Associated Press reported that county supervisors are considering the idea. Naturally, their budget already is tight.

The same tight budget certainly exists in every county and school district in Mississippi. But a little math exercise illustrates the challenge and the expense of increasing security at schools in Pike County.

Depending on how you count them, there are between 13 and 16 public school locations in the county’s three school districts. If you put the estimated cost of increased local security at $40,000 per location, that implies an expense of about $560,000 a year for such a program.

Local schools already have some security, but not one law enforcement officer at every school. Maybe there’s some state or federal assistance available to help with this. But maybe not. More likely, local taxpayers are going to pay for a large part of increased school protection.

Maybe there are less expensive alternatives, like one-time costs for fences and other safeguards instead of higher annual payroll costs. It just seems like schools are in a bind over security: Educators would be taking a risk by ignoring the problem, but any serious effort to increase the police presence will be expensive.

Whatever happens will be one more way that school money gets directed away from instruction, which is why students are supposed to be there in the first place.