Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education postponed a Tuesday vote on a proposal to put unarmed security guards at area elementary schools, shortly after the Wake County Board of Commissioners roundly criticized the idea.
School board Chairman Keith Sutton said the proposal needs more discussion before a vote, but commissioners said unarmed guards would be a waste of money that accomplishes nothing.
"I am all about security officers, but they need to be armed. Can’t see where an unarmed security officer will be able to protect any child," Commissioner Phil Matthews said. "God forbid someone did show up with evil intentions to break into the school. What are they going to do stop them? Absolutely nothing. If they are not armed, they are not a true security officer."
The proposal calls for spending up to $2.4 million a year to hire AlliedBarton Security Services guards for each of the school district's 105 elementary schools. The company already provides security for some district schools.
Commissioners said they believe school board members acted too quickly in even thinking about a vote without bothering to have a conversation with the community – or with commissioners.
"I'm not really sure anyone, including the school board, has done any real research," Commissioner James West said.
"I think it's worth having a conversation with them about real effect and real change that would protect our children versus something that's a feel-good measure that won't do any good," Commissioner Paul Coble said.
Sutton said the recommendation was made after a review of the district's security policy in the wake of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"We're trying to take some proactive steps to keep our schools safe," Sutton said. "There aren't any threats being posed, but we have some issues around access with some of our elementary schools. They are not covered in the same way as our middle and high schools."
Most of the district's high schools and some middle schools have armed school resource officers, but elementary schools do not.
"People feel like it is too easy for someone to walk into the front of our schools," said school board member Susan Evans after district staff members explained that the guards would act as a full-time, dedicated monitor at the front door.
Commissioner Tony Gurley called the proposal another example of irresponsible spending by the school board.
Sutton said money budgeted for other ventures wouldn't be used to pay for the security.
"We are not cutting from anywhere if this is approved," he said. "We would be pulling money from overage and surplus money we've saved during the year."
County Manager David Cooke told commissioners that the school board has the authority to spend money on the guards.
Some parents say they like the idea of added security even though they aren't necessarily worried about another school shooting like the one at Sandy Hook, where 20 first-graders and six staff members lost their lives
"Once you're used to (the extra security), it's comforting," parent Margaret Kline said. "I don't think I'd be opposed to it because it's one more layer of security."
Tara Kramling agreed but said she doesn't think the shooting at Sandy Hook is an indication of a huge problem with security at elementary schools.
"It was a tragedy in and of itself, but I don't think it indicates a huge problem that every school should be on lockdown all the time," she said.
Matthews said the Board of Commissioners has received emails from people who don't want to place unarmed guards in schools. He and other commissioners said they hope to talk with school board members to see if they can come up with some sort of agreement on this issue.