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COLUMN: School security’s costly, but what’s the value of a child?

Less than 100 hours after 10 students were shot and killed at a high school in Texas, the Muscogee County School Board on Monday will consider the creation of a limited jurisdiction police force to insure the safety of 32,944 students and 6,000 employees.

Superintendent David Lewis is expected to make the recommendation at the board’s monthly meeting Monday evening at 2960 Macon Road in Columbus. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.

Last Friday’s bloody attack on scores of young people at Santa Fe High School in Texas was the 312th campus shooting in the United States this year — an average of about one a week since January.

Officials in Muscogee County have been considering various security measures for several months and Lewis is expected to recommend a $2.9 million plan that would fund 10 full-time School Resource Officers (SRO) and seven Certified Law Enforcement Officers (CLEO.

Officers would be assigned to the district’s eight high schools: Columbus, Northside, Shaw, Hardaway, Jordan, Spencer, Kendrick and Carver. The peace officers would be on call to provide assistance at the system’s 49 middle and elementary schools along with other facilities and departments of the MCSD.

Security Department head Scott Thomann — a sworn lawman for decades —has been assisting Lewis in gathering data and information for the three plans that are outlined in the agenda for Monday’s school board meeting.

The alternative that Lewis is expected to recommend includes around $1.9 million for salaries and benefits along with $450,000 in startup costs for automobiles and special equipment.

But is the plan adequate?

The new plan would mean an obvious improvement in security compared to the one now in place. But are 10 full-time SROs and seven CLEOsenough to secure 62 schools and buildings scattered across a county as sprawling as Muscogee?

An alternative plan calls for 21 SROs and one part-time CLEO at a price tag of $3.1 million with $800,00 in startup costs. Even that plan would leave the majority of the district’s middle and elementary schools unmanned.

The creation of a MCSD police force is a major step. The new department would provide balance and experience in a manner similar to that provided by the Columbus State University police force.

There are still question marks.

  • What about improving the safety and security of MCSD school buildings?
  • What can be done about the number of entrance ways and exits in local schools?
  • What about additional security cameras?
  • What about metal detectors?
  • What about security on school buses?
  • What about playground security?
  • What about safety training for teachers and staff?
  • What about the security of classrooms?

Neither of the proposed plans calls for enough manpower. The cost of having an officer in every school would be prohibitive. Using figures cited by the school district, additional salaries and benefits could cost as much as $5 million and more automobiles and equipment could cost around $1.8 million.

The revised bottom line might come to as much as $10 million. An immediate dilemma would be where to find this much money. Federal grants are often discussed but in this case every school system in the USA is looking into improved security.

We’re talking about a lot of money — but what is the cost of a child?

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