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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Editorial: Don’t compromise security for new school buses

There is no need for the Hillsborough County School Board to “rethink” a sound decision it made several months ago that provides a layer of security for all of the district’s elementary school students, teachers, administrators and support personnel.

A majority of the board voted in December to adopt Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s sensible four-year plan to place armed security officers at each of the district’s 150 elementary schools. The first phase of the $4.5 million plan is underway, with potential security officers being interviewed and hired.

But at least two board members who voted against that security plan now see an opening for possibly reversing the decision. They want the board to consider diverting the security money to the transportation department, where there is an overdue need for new school buses to replace the district’s aging and neglected fleet.

No doubt the buses need replacing, but not at the expense of security. Board members should find a way to fund both.

A consultant has told the board that nearly 350 buses need replacing, at a cost of roughly $110,000 each. He said the existing buses are safe to operate but need to be phased out before they break down too frequently or become a danger.

The district has $7 million set aside for bus purchases and hopes to obtain millions more in state money to begin upgrading its fleet.

Board member Candy Olson rightly suggests the district consider taking money from its contingency fund, or that the board could try to make the case that bus safety is important enough to raise property taxes to accelerate the purchasing.

Unfortunately, board members Cindy Stuart and April Griffin want to consider diverting the security money, even though that plan is being implemented and the $4.5 million wouldn’t make much of a dent in bus purchasing. Not surprisingly, they were on the losing end of the December vote to move forward with Elia’s security plan.

“Maybe we can rethink that decision,” Stuart said.

She made mention of a teacher survey that shows more than 90 percent of 2,000 people interviewed feel safe in their schools.

But it only takes one incident to render that survey meaningless, as the Sandy Hook tragedy taught the entire country. It’s a pretty safe bet that the teachers at that school felt safe up until that horrific day.

The district already provides armed security at its high schools and middle schools. Elementary schools were once thought to be immune from the violence associated with those upper grades. But those days are over.

The board oversees a $2.8 billion annual budget. Its members should put on their thinking caps and find a way to upgrade the bus fleet without compromising security at the district’s elementary schools.

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