Schools balance budgets with school security

Next year, all students in the Baltimore County Public School system will have identification badges to check into school.

In Anne Arundel County, safety officials plan to continue installing more locks for classrooms.

Harford County Public Schools plan on fixing the old camera systems in its schools systems.

Fifteen years after the Columbine tragedy, school safety officials are attempting a delicate balancing act: secure schools on limited funds.

For many school districts, thousands of dollars are spent every year on everything from security equipment, safety consulting seminars and teacher safety training, according to their proposed budgets for 2015.

In Focus | School security has been a popular topic in the wake of several highly-publicized active shooter incidents that took place at schools or in public places. It was training for active shooter situations that contributed the Howard County Police Department's management of the shooting at The Mall in Columbia. Thursday at 6 p.m. we go in-depth on the shooting at the mall and bring the issue in focus.

Of five school jurisdictions, Baltimore County schools want to spend the most on security and safety at $2.7 million, according to the proposed 2015 budget.

The uptick is thanks to extra grant funding from the county and state.

Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford schools weren’t far behind. The average spending in their budgets is around $1.2 million.

In two years, most jurisdictions reported smaller budgets.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, said most schools consider school security a luxury, mostly obtained through grants.

“If there’s extra money, schools will apply for it,” he said. “Five years down the road, those cameras might not be working, given a tight budget.”

School safety breakdown

Each budget revealed that educators are attempting different strategies to improve school security.

To maximize the 54 schools in the Harford County School district, officials are expanding their online initiative to allow parents and students to access safety information 24 hours a day.

The system is also completing critical site plans for each school to see where safety can be improved.

Schools are also switching to a keyless lock system.

Ben Benedetto,safety director for Harford County Public Schools, said the system might be working with a smaller budget this year since the county executive cut school funding.

Last year, he added, the system was generous in providing funds to help upgrade technology.

“By this June, all of our schools will have cameras,” he said. “We are making sure we are ahead when it comes to this issue.”

Benedetto said budgets tend to vary because of school size and because of grants.

“I would expect a system double our size to spend more,” he said. “Each district is different.”

Baltimore County school safety officials said their new identification system is ahead of the game in regards to accountability.

“We are one of the first systems to install it,” said Dale Rauenzahn executive director of public safety for Baltimore County Public Schools. “If there is another emergency situation, we will be able to locate all students right away.”

Once installed, students will receive an identification card that will enable them to enter school through a keyless entry system.

Teachers will also be able to take attendance in real time, to keep track of where students might be.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamentz recently highlighted the new initiative during his State of the County speech.

Larry Fairies, safety director, for Carroll County Public Schools, said the school is concentrating funding on continued training efforts and systems upgrades.

“As we’ve seen, it’s the most effective way to combat potential emergencies,” he said.

According to Anne Arundel’s proposed 2015 school budget, educators plan to build a better relationship with county emergency personnel.

They also plan to provide security assistance to schools through regular security surveys, trainings and improvement in equipment.

National trends

Trump said when it comes to high profiled shooting incidents, Congress acted differently, especially during Columbine and Newtown.

When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and injured 24 others at Columbine High School in 1999, Trump said the Clinton administration took action.

“At that time, Congress helped set up many programs that dealt with everything from security to mental health needs,” he said.

Michael Dorn, executive director for the school safety group Safe Haven, said when it comes to spending, it’s not uncommon for schools to decrease funding overtime.

Dorn added that after 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. in 2012, Congress not only cut most of those programs, but did little to help deal with safety.

“They can’t get anything passed,” he said. “No resources were allocated at all.”

“It’s very possible that a school had major upgrades years earlier,” he said.

“And now you see things stabilizing.”

Dorn said nationally school districts are “all over the map” when it comes to school safety spending.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “It means that schools are attempting to find a plan that works for their needs.”

In assessing 6,000 schools across the country, Dorn says many schools are spending a bulk of their money on more security cameras, identification software, panic buttons and security personnel.

Purchasing of this equipment tends to become popular after mass shooting incidents, like those at Virginia Tech and in Newtown, Conn.

“While security equipment is important, our research has found that the no cost/low cost approaches are what work best,” Dorn said.

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