After the recent, tragic kids-shooting-kids events in Springfield, Ore., and Jonesboro, Ark., school safety is on everybody's mind, no matter where they live in the country. This is why the harsh words that Maj. Mike Farrell, Richmond County's school safety director, leveled against the School Board this week jolted many in the community.
Farrell ripped trustees for preparing to OK the school administration's proposed $176.4 million budget that not only takes a pass on Farrell's request to boost school safety funding from $515,000 to nearly $824,000, but actually slashes his budget to $343,000.
The total difference between what Farrell claims he needs for security and what the Board is offering comes to $481,000 -- a figure much too large for a compromise to bridge. Farrell drove his point home with scary talk about how Augusta schools are not immune to campus shootouts.
It could be only a matter of time before the nightmare hits home, said Farrell. "What they keep saying is that's it's not going to happen here ... I'm worried that it will."
Farrell is right. Safety is and must remain a paramount issue. But educating young people is still schools' No. 1 mission. Just as nobody should assume gunplay can't happen here, they also shouldn't assume, as Farrell seems to, that it will.
School Superintendent Charles Larke points out that even with the reduced safety budget, there is no reduction in safety personnel. The school system hired five new security officers this year, so middle schools and high schools will be as well patrolled in '98-'99 as they are in '97-'98 -- and with no increase in the millage rate.
What's being cut from Farrell's "wish list" is his request for seven more officers next year, plus buying 16 new patrol cars. The School Board can't possibly afford all that.
There isn't enough money in any budget to guarantee every student's safety 100 percent of the time. A cunning, clever hate-filled kid, bent on violence and with ready access to guns and ammo, can wreak death and injury no matter how many security officers are on the payroll.
It looks like Farrell is using campus tragedies elsewhere in an effort to boost his own department's budget. Scaring the public to get more funds out of elected officials is the oldest bureaucratic trick in the business.
But Augusta schools have their own needs and priorities and it's utter nonsense to let events in Arkansas or Oregon shape that budget.
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