First step but more still needed [Editorial]

Tuesday’s announcement that every middle school in Harford County’s public school system that doesn’t have one will get a police officer dedicated to it was welcome news.

So was the report that the school system would also be looking at the feasibility of doing the same for each of its elementary schools.

“The children in our schools are our most precious possessions and we want them to come to a welcoming place where they can be embraced, where they can receive instruction that will make them good citizens and help them to build good character, but at the same time be safe. That is a very big challenge for us in this world,” Barbara Canavan, the retiring superintendent of Harford County Public Schools, said Tuesday.

We agree. The pressure to keep kids safe in schools has never been greater and the cost of providing safe, secure schools has never been cheap.

Where we disagree, strongly, is with the glacial pace to make our schools safe and the continuing fallback on costs as some sort of a legitimate reason to not do more.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler reinforced that notion at Tuesday’s press conference announcing the additional funding and officers, saying putting a school resource officer in every elementary school will be a “great fiscal undertaking.”

That “great fiscal undertaking” could cost as much as $7 million annually, according to information presented Tuesday, which would be about 1.29 percent of the county’s current $543.1 million budget. We’ll defer to official estimates, but at $120,000 per officer for each of the county system’s 33 elementary schools, we come up with slightly less than $4 million annually to put a resource officer in those schools. At $4 million, that’s about seven-tenths of one percent of the $543.1 million budget.

Those numbers are so statistically insignificant that there’s no reason not to get it done. In the modern business world, companies think nothing of asking their managers to figure out how to operate in the next budget year on as much as 5 percent less than what it cost to operate in the current budget year.

We concede, as Gahler pointed out, putting a police officer in a school can’t happen immediately because of the time it might take to get officers hired and properly trained.

Other than that, there’s no reason not to start ASAP on the plan so as soon as they are ready, a school resource officer will be in every school.

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