On Thursday of this week, the Joint Committee on the Public Schools (JCPS), co-chaired by Senator Joseph Cryan and Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, met virtually to receive the findings of NJASA School Safety and Security Report. Charles Sampson, Superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District, and MaryJane Garibay, Superintendent of the Colts Neck Township Schools, presented the survey results. Hundreds of school administrators from across the state took part in providing data about what kinds of security their districts had in place. Districts reported varying levels of security measures, ranging from security cameras, security vestibules, upgraded classroom door locks, armed security personnel to bulletproof ballistic glass. Twenty percent of districts statewide reported having no security personnel in the district. The survey dug a little deeper and asked why districts had the measures in place that they did. Cost was overwhelmingly cited as the biggest determining factor.
Superintendent Sampson noted that security funding for schools in New Jersey averages approximately $91.00 per student, a figure that administrators agree does not cover even half their costs to keep their buildings safe and secure. Sampson and Garlbay made the point that the Legislature’s uneven and late funding of certain security costs (such as critical issue mapping), results in an inequity to districts who have been proactive on costly security initiatives. There is no mechanism for the districts that had already done this to be reimbursed. The administrators say that when precious dollars are allocated to districts, it is important to ensure that it is done in a fair and equitable way. The survey results, they explain, exposed blatant inequities that exist across the state in security and mental health resources. They also noted the importance of understanding that most of these investments are not one-time expenditures. Security cameras, technology, and even the bulletproof glass installed at some schools have shelf lives, and continuing investments must be made.
Sampson and Garlbay asked for support from the Legislature and Administration for school safety infrastructure and personnel upgrades. A sustainable commitment from local and state legislators for funding is critical to support the operations, infrastructure, and personnel needs of modern schoolhouses – inclusive of school security. Legislative support for school funding will minimize the need for school leaders to compromise within their annual budgets to ensure that their students and staff have equitable access to safe learning environments. Another key point is that an update to New Jersey’s School Security Task Force Report is overdue. “The last comprehensive examination of school safety and security needs from the Department of Education was in 2015, and is now dated”, he testified.
You can listen to the full presentation of the report to the Joint Committee on the Public Schools here.