The costs and the limits of school security

Children return to school on Dec. 18, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.

A lot of parents are worried about their schools' safety after the Newtown tragedy and the headlines reflect that. Time magazine's reads: School Security: Why it's so hard to keep kids safe. Fox News has: Massacre sparks school security alerts nationwide. Well, here's the Marketplace-y headline: Does spending more on security really make schools safer?

Craig Hockenberry, the principal of Oyler a public school that goes from pre-K through high school is proud of his security upgrades, part of a $21 million school renovation. (Marketplace has been following Oyler's progress in a year-long education series.)

Principal Hockenberry wants the school to be the beacon of safety in Lower Price Hill, a poor Cincinnati neighborhood where crime and blight are everywhere. And, he's willing to pay for it. "The police, I can give you that figure, is upwards of about 30 some thousand dollars a year that I set aside from our general fund budget: the cameras, a quarter of a million dollars in cameras, probably. I don't know what the doors cost, but at the end of the day anything that could slow down a potential shooter or a potential problem to give the good guys time to respond is something very important to us," says Hockenberry.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. He says Craig Hockenberry is like most school administrators -- deeply concerned with kids' safety, even when budget shortfalls demand a long list of cuts.

"Their have been a huge number of teacher lay-offs because of that, professional development... they've cut back on instructional materials and supplies, but nowhere on the list has school security appeared," he says.

Annette Fuentes, author of "Lockdown High: When The Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse," says security surveillance and hardware can range from a couple of thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. And, she says spending all that money on high-priced equipment wouldn't have stopped the Newtown shooter.

"Adam Lanza was determined to get into the school and he had a small arsenal of high powered weaponry to get in," says Fuentes. "Especially at time of budget deficits for public schools investing in high tech security and more armed police is not the way to go."

Curt Lavarello,  the executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council and a former school police officer, says expensive security systems CAN make schools safer as does, "common sense, you want to create an environment that's open to dialogue where kids feel comfortable talking to adults." Lavarello says training teachers and students to speak up when someone looks suspicious, or when bullying takes place -- that's cheap -- and, it works.

About the author

Shereen Marisol Meraji is a reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

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