Local Voters Nationwide Asked to Fund Beefed-Up School Security
After 17 students and staff members were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., earlier this year, state legislators rushed to set up school safety blue ribbon panels and push bills that mandated more frequent shooter drills, the hiring of more school resource officers, and the arming of teachers.
But most states have traditionally left to local officials to fund one of the most vital aspects of school safety: building security.
Come Election Day, districts in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, and Utah, among other places, will ask their local voters to approve facilities spending that includes features such as new door locks, alarm systems, bulletproof windows, and metal detectors.
It's exceedingly difficult to track all of the many local property tax increase requests and borrowing requests that will be on voters' ballots next week.
But examples from around the country give a glimpse at what local officials are seeking in their quest to "harden" school buildings in the wake of this year's horrific shootings in Parkland, in Sante Fe, Texas, Charlotte, and elsewhere.
In Mississippi, the Harrison County school system, which which incorporates parts of Gulfport and Biloxi, will be asking voters to approve a $55 million bond to, among other things, pay for buzz-in systems and double doors in schools where, at the current time, "people can walk in unnoticed," according to district officials.
Middleton School District in Idaho will be asking voters to provide more than $2.7 million to make security upgrades to all of its schools.
Iron County schools in Utah will ask voters to provide the district with $91.5 million, of which $4 million will be used for security upgrades and video surveillance equipment in 15 of the district's schools.
As we've noted here at Education Week, states have long neglected to fund maintenance, upgrades, and construction of new buildings. Of the $50 billion Americans spend on maintenance and school construction each year, almost 85 percent of school costs come from local coffers, according to the 2016 "State of our Schools" report from the National Council on School Facilities, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the 21st Century School Fund. An estimated $197 billion is needed to get America's schools in "good condition," according to the study.
Local public school advocates have had a hard time getting buy-in from voters typically hostile to more taxes. That's led to an uneven landscape across America. Where a child lives could ultimately determine how modern— or secure— his or her school is.
Even so, local officials have told me that the Parkland shooting and the ongoing national debate over whether teachers should carry guns has placed school security at the top of voters' minds this election season. As a result, many officials are pairing building maintenance and new school construction with new security gadgets.
A case in point: In Loveland, Colo., Thompson District officials are asking voters to take out a $149 million loan that, in addition to building a new K-8 school and upgrading schools' ventilation systems, would upgrade all its schools' security systems.
"Safety sells well," school board member Pam Howard recently told a gathered group of teachers getting ready to canvass in support of the ballot measure. "This will benefit all students."