Immediately following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead, the single loudest chorus called for improved school security.
In a rare show of unity for these times, Americans of all stripes pined for stronger measures to protect students from those who want to harm them. The nobility — and, sadly, necessity — of that push can’t be questioned.
From there, however, we disagree on the specifics. Whether it’s armed security, controlled access or metal detectors, none of these proposals are cheap and, after chronic underfunding of our state’s and nation’s schools, the question must revolve around who, if anyone, would underwrite these costs.
Let’s break out those three items and apply them to Lincoln Public Schools, which has 57 traditional school buildings:
- Armed guards: LPS has student resource officers at its six high schools, the cost of which is divided evenly between the district and the Lincoln Police Department. The district spent more than $203,000 this year on that 50-50 split — a figure that would multiply nearly tenfold if every school were staffed.
- Controlled access: In 2015, the Journal Star reported that adding secure entrances to the roughly half of schools (32) without them cost more than $3 million, paid by the $153 million bond issue in 2014. Staffing these doors ran $1.2 million annually.
- Metal detectors: Each detector being planned for Pinnacle Bank Arena ranges from between $5,000 and $6,500. Adding just one unit at each building would cost more than $250,000 — and that’s before accounting for wages new security staff or multiple detectors for secondary entrances.
These costs are enormous for just one district — and that’s before considering Nebraska has 1,232 public and private schools, according to the Department of Education.
People bellyache about the cost of public education, borne largely by taxpayers, to invest in the future. Accordingly, we remain skeptical that people will remain willing to fund such expensive security measures.
After all, taxpayers griped that Lincoln Public Schools kept its levy at the state-mandated lid. Last November, Norris Public Schools voters narrowly defeated a $7.5 million bond issue that included security upgrades. These kinds of stories exist across the state.
One need only skim the various tax plans before the Legislature to witness frustration regarding Nebraska’s overreliance on property taxes to support K-12 schools. State aid has steadily declined, so districts have been forced to lean more heavily on that source just to keep funding levels flat.
Last we checked, the primary purpose of school was to educate youth to make them more productive citizens. Doing so is expensive, but it’s an investment well worth it — despite the complaints.
Defending those students from harm certainly merits further debate, unlike suggestions to arm teachers. However, Nebraska already fails to fully fund its educational programs and those who want to beef up security must be willing to pay for these upgrades when push comes to shove.