Experts weigh in on what school security upgrades will cost

Amid lots of talk about school security, experts are chiming in on what effective school security actually looks like.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WTSP) – Amid lots of talk about school security from individual school districts to lawmakers in Washington D.C., security experts are chiming in on what effective school security actually looks like in practice.

The national conversation about school security changed significantly in 2012 after 20 first-graders and six adults were killed by a lone gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., kicked that conversation back into high gear.

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But experts and officials all have different ideas about what school security should look like.

“We have to make sure that we’re balancing out the physical security with the human side of school safety because we know that when incidents come into questions, after the fact in a tragedy, they consistently focus on allegations of failures, not security products and hardware,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services.

“Security products and hardware can be a supplement to, but not a substitute for, the people behind that hardware. We know that any type of security equipment and hardware is only as strong as the weakest human link behind it. It’s not about the fortified front entranceway or the cameras, it’s what’s behind those fortified entranceways: the training, the planning, the relationships, the programmatic support for kids with mental health and behavioral needs, and all of the people-oriented things that have to be prioritized along with the physical security.”

On top of figuring out the best security measures to put in place, school districts and lawmakers have to figure out how to pay for it all.

“That’s a huge challenge,” said Mark Williams, Steering Committee director for Partner Alliance for Safer Schools. “Probably one of the biggest challenges that schools face other than knowing what to do is then, once they understand what to do, is how do we fund it?”

Williams came up with a cost analysis for what it would take to implement different levels of security for public schools in every state. Looking at Florida’s numbers, he estimates it would cost just under $450 million for just the most basic-level security in schools.

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For the most sophisticated level of security, it could cost more than a billion dollars.

Gov. Rick Scott’s school safety plan proposes $500 million for security in Florida schools.

“What I appreciate about the plan is that he’s putting one forward,” added Williams. “I appreciate the fact that he’s talking about funding. I appreciate, also, that he’s talking about practice and drills because that’s an integral part of acting in an emergency situation.”

“The Florida plan has positive things with evaluating security, beefing up school resource officers and security personnel and assessing schools,” said Trump. “We need to make sure that it’s not a cookie cutter approach at the state level, something that’s pushed down, but instead that it’s some resources that go to local schools because every single school and every single school community is different.”

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And critical to the success of the security plan, according to Trump, will be continued funding in the years to come.

“School safety cannot be viewed as a grant-funded luxury, a one-time shot in the arm that the government puts out after a tragedy. It has to be incorporated within local school district budgets in the long haul both in prevention services as well as security, policing and preparedness services,” he added. “We need to make sure that counselors and programs and security personnel and school police are not cut once the camera and the spotlight goes off school safety and educators move on to other things including tighter budgets.”