Oklahoma City Public Schools officials plan to add a police presence at several elementary schools to protect students and teachers and improve learning, the district’s head of security said.
Rod McKinley, chief human resources officer for the district, has identified “some areas of concern” at nine elementary schools. Not among them is Coolidge Elementary School, where police arrested a fourth-grader Friday after teachers found an unloaded handgun in his backpack.
“Parents should not have to sit at home on a daily basis and wonder about the safety of their kids,” said McKinley, who declined to identify the nine schools. “We’ve seen too much of this on the nightly news.”
None of the district’s 55 elementary schools have school resource officers. The district, however, pays the Oklahoma City Police Department $1.6 million annually for 16 police officers to provide security at each of the district’s middle schools and high schools.
Because of security concerns, McKinley said the district is having trouble attracting substitute teachers, which can lead to overcrowded classrooms and additional security issues.
“Security in the schools is not just about preventing crime or incidents, it’s also about education,” he said. “In order to have the atmosphere in each one of our schools that is a learning environment the students have to feel safe, the teachers have to feel safe, the principals have to feel safe.”
McKinley said the cost to hire police officers — about $80,000 per officer — is prohibitive, and could force the district to look elsewhere to staff elementary schools. The district, he added, is exploring the possibility of contracting with the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office for all or additional officers.
The district’s contract with the police department is up for renewal in July. A department spokesman declined to comment about the school district contract.
“Can we afford to put (school resource officers) in every elementary school? Absolutely not,” McKinley said. “It’s an extraordinary cost. They’re really expensive.”
McKinley said he would like to have between six and 10 new resource officers in place by Aug. 4, the start of the 2014-15 school year.
The incident at Coolidge Elementary, 5212 S Villa, might have been avoided, McKinley said, had there been a police presence on campus.
“Just having that presence on site, maybe for Coolidge that kid would have thought twice about even having that partial weapon in the backpack,” he said. “I’m convinced, and the incident Friday convinces me even more of the need to have security in there.”
The backpack was searched after another student was caught with a knife and said he got the knife from the fourth-grader. The 11-year-old boy was arrested on three felony complaints, including possession of a firearm with an altered serial number.