[This article has been amended; see "Corrections" at end.]
If Wake County were to put an armed guard in every school, as a top NRA official has suggested should be done nationwide, it would require more than 100 new law enforcement officers and cost the school district millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, one Wake County school board member says she would be open to allowing teachers to carry a gun on campus.
In a press conference held days after the December shooting that killed 26 Connecticut elementary school students and staff, NRA Chief Operating Officer Wayne LaPierre asked Congress "to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school—and to do it now."
Asked to comment on such a policy change, the NRA's eastern North Carolina representative declined requests for an interview. A spokesperson for the NRA National Institute of Legislative Action, the group's lobbyists, did not return calls for comment.
There are 169 public schools in Wake County, home to the state's second-largest school district. Sworn law enforcement officers, who are armed, are stationed at more than 50 of them, mostly high schools and secondary schools.
The services for each Student Resource Officer (SRO) are paid for by the school district and each officer's employing agency. The cost for just one SRO is $80,000 per year, including salary, benefits, equipment, vehicle, etc., says district spokeswoman Samiha Khanna.
At that price, placing at least one armed police officer at the approximately 115 schools not already covered by the program would cost the district and its partners an additional $9.2 million per year, bringing the program's price tag to $12.4 million. That's up from $3.15 million, the cost for the more than 50 SRO officers the county already has. That figure doesn't include insurance, the cost of which could increase with an expansion of the program.
Even with a total operating budget of $1.2 billion, the district doesn't have enough funding to meet its current SRO needs, says Jim Martin, District 5 Wake County Board of Education member.
"We have them at all of the high schools," Martin says. "But some of our schools are just too big to be covered by just one officer."
SROs aren't the only security personnel in Wake County schools. Since 2006, the school district has contracted with AlliedBarton Security Services for dozens of district facilities, including 31 schools. Unlike the SROs, AlliedBarton personnel are unarmed.
The school district's two-year contract with AlliedBarton contains a spending cap of $1.3 million. Expenditures related to the contract were not made available by press time.
There isn't enough money for district-wide security. As state budgets have tightened, shortfalls have forced the district to dip into financial reserves. The school system's security budget currently stands at $3.15 million.
Whether Wake board members would or could increase it depends on whether there is broad public support for such a move. The board has not discussed LaPierre's suggestion or any proposed changes to security policy, Martin says.
Under state law, it is illegal for anyone except sanctioned law enforcement officers to carry firearms on school grounds.
Interviewed during the Bill LuMaye show on WPTF late last month, board member Debra Goldman, a Republican, suggested that she would be open to allowing teachers to carry guns at school. "If one of those young teachers had pulled out a weapon and gunned down this guy, all those lives could have been spared," Goldman said. She could not be reached for comment for this story.
But Martin, a Democrat, says he's worried about an increased chance of an accident. "When there are guns, they will be used," he says.
Thus far, that hasn't been the case. Through a spokesperson, Wake County schools security director Russ Smith reports that there have been no incidents of accidental discharges of firearms nor armed intruders forcing their way onto a school campus.
That's a testament to the district security personnel, says Martin. "I think we have responsible policies in place," he says. "But as I try to remind parents, there is no such thing as a risk-free environment."
Corrections: The number of Wake County schools with SROs is more than 50, but not specifically 54; the average $80,000 cost for one SRO includes not only salary but also benefits, equipment, vehicle, etc.; Wake County school system's annual security budget is $3.15 million, not $4.3 million.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Farewell to arms."