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Private Security in Public Schools

By Scott Pleasant.

After a months-long dispute over a shared funding agreement between the Horry County Police Department (HCPD) and the county school system, the Horry County School Board has voted unanimously to outsource school safety to a private security company.

The Horry County school system has for many years partnered with the Horry County Police to provide School Resource Officers (SROs) for middle and high schools in the district. While no plan can ever completely eliminate the possibility of violence in our schools, the presence of experienced and trained officers can serve as an important deterrent. The presence of these officers also means that when problems do arise, a member of law enforcement can respond quickly to help control the situation.

According to a WBTW.com news article, the estimated cost for having eighteen Horry County officers in the public schools during the 2017-18 school year was $1,650,000. With the county and the school board splitting these costs equally, each would have been responsible for approximately $800,000. WBTW has reported that the school board was seeking to renegotiate the agreement so that 90% of the funding for the SROs would come from the Horry County Police Department. A 90/10 split would have cut the school system’s costs to approximately $165,000 per year.

After the county and the school board were unable to reach an agreement on funding, the school board chose instead to enter into an agreement with a private security firm to provide security services in the schools. According to that same WBTW.com article, the deal with U.S. Security Associates (USSA) requires Horry County Schools to pay this outside contractor $550,000 during the 2017-18 school year.

Assuming these figures are correct, the school board’s decision will theoretically save the system approximately $250,000 (that is, $550,000 for USSA’s security guards compared to an estimated $800,000 to keep HDCP officers in the school). In making this decision, the board members have unanimously elected to put privately trained and managed security guards in our school system.

Again, assuming these figures are correct (and other news agencies, including WMBF News, have reported similar figures), the school board was unwilling to pay anything over $165,000 for HCDP officers, but their unanimous decision shows that they were happy to pay $550,000 to a private security service.

And it is worth noting that this decision was made by the same school board that voted in March to give themselves a 66% pay raise. According to another WBTW.com article, the school board members’ pay will jump from $9,600 per year to $16,000, making them the highest-paid school board in the state. The total annual raise for the twelve-member board will be $76,800, nearly one third of the estimated amount the board members saved the district by contracting with an outside security firm.

Our public schools have a duty not only to educate young people but to protect them. All of us—whether we have school-age children or not—have been saddened and horrified by news stories about mass shootings and other kinds of violence that happen far too often in school settings.

While the security guards who work for USSA are reportedly well-trained (often retired military or police officers), it seems highly unlikely that this move by the school board makes our schools safer. Bottom line:  The cost savings involved in this decision do not seem worth the potential risk.






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