The bipartisan gun safety legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden on Saturday included hundreds of millions of dollars to help schools fund safety programs and mental health resources in their communities.
In response to high-profile mass shootings in recent years, there’s been a movement to “harden” schools with tighter security measures. But those programs have costs.
“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Dr. Scott Anzalone, a family physician and former president of the Logan-Hocking School District in southeastern Ohio, about his community’s effort to protect students. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Let me ask you first of all about the headline economic story of these days. You are a small-town doctor, running a practice, which is, of course, a small business. Talk to me about inflation and how you’re feeling about things.
Scott Anzalone: It’s hitting everyone hard in our community. In my practice, good examples, just gloves: We couldn’t get them for a while, and now we can get them but they’re twice to three times what they cost a year ago. You know, my employees here, they’re having a hard time with gas prices getting to work. I gave them a raise, but it’s eaten away. You know, I try to help. I bought them a gas card a couple of weeks ago just to say thank you and help them out, but it hits my bottom line. And, you know, salaries keep going up, and in health care, reimbursement keeps going down. You know, the money only goes so far.
Ryssdal: Yeah. Do you worry about your staff just saying, “You know what, Scott, I love you, but I gotta go work somewhere else where I can make decent money”?
Anzalone: Oh, it’s happened repetitively. I’ve lost good staff because the neighboring hospitals or other systems, they basically, you know, they throw golden carrots out and I can’t compete, being in private practice. You know, you can’t blame them. They come to me and tell me what they’re going to pay them, and I’m like, “Wow, well can take me with you?” But yeah, it’s tough. I feel for them. I watch them struggle.
Ryssdal: Yeah. One of the other reasons we wanted to talk to you as often happens when we think about getting you on the phone, is that you are the immediate past president of the Logan-Hocking Board of Education for the school district there. And I wanted to ask you about, obviously, the news from Uvalde, Texas, [as] a guy whose civic contribution it is to help run and keep a local school district safe, how do you, first of all, think about that day in and day out?
Anzalone: Oh, yeah, every day, you know, our goal is to educate our students. And when we were in school — I’m sure we’re not too far off age-wise — we didn’t have to worry about those things. You know, you went to school, you listened, you learned and you didn’t have to worry about things like this. Our kids that come every day, you know, in a state of trauma. In our district, we were very proactive. Back in 2017-18, we were already looking at this. We have resource officers in every single one of our buildings. We have our county sheriff’s department, our local police department all working together as a team with our schools. We have our own drug dog, and we have secured all of our buildings throughout the county. There’s one way in, one way out when our students are there, and we’ve done everything possible to make sure security is tight without making kids more traumatized.
Ryssdal: The catch, of course, with all this stuff is that it’s expensive, and Logan-Hocking is not a wealthy School District.
Anzalone: No. And you know, back when we started this, we started with one resource officer and at the time, that was the discussion, how are we gonna pay for this? It wasn’t an option. After the Parkland, Florida, shooting, we had a communitywide meeting [with] parents, everyone was there, stakeholders. And we’re like, “You know what? We will do whatever it takes to keep our kids safe.” We were able to pull up funds of our own between us and the sheriff’s department, and police department to fund one resource officer that year, and then since then, we have just — it’s just part of our budget. Our community is helping pay for it, and the sheriff’s department is helping to cover some of the costs of their employees. It wasn’t an option. It’s like, “We have to do this.”
Ryssdal: Yeah, but you’re gonna have to be doing this, we’re all going to have to be doing this for a long time. And you know, states and cities have gotten some help from the federal government during the pandemic, and I imagine balance sheets look OK now, but talk to me about the out years, right, because you got to keep on going with this.
Anzalone: Right. One of the things we’ve looked at is, you know, what can we do to prevent future problems. And one of the issues on our end was mental health. And we’re hoping with this new legislation that just got passed that will be open and available some federal funds to help buy more stuff for the buildings, but also to help cover the mental health [resources] that we’ve already instituted in our buildings. But the big issue is, you know, a lot of these funds are one-time monies, and our treasurer provides us a bit of a five-year forecast, and we try to look at all everything that’s coming down the road and be as prepared as we can.