To keep abreast of school security issues, we subscribe to a newspaper clipping service. Each week we receive articles on school violence and security issues from over 300 papers across the United States. Looking back over a year of these newspaper clips, it is clear that schools were fighting hard against the increase in violence.

Story after story told of the details of guns and weapons being discovered, metal detectors being contemplated, and boards and administrators increasingly being put under pressure to "solve" the problem.

Money issues were also clear. School districts continue to face tightening budgets. School administrators are being asked to do more with a lot less money.

In this issue of The Kaufer Report, I would like to examine the dilemma of the increased need for security in schools that comes at the same time of shrinking budgets.

How can we respond to the need for better security with fewer budget dollars available? In our work with school districts facing these problems we have had to get creative about sources of funding. Delivering recommendations for improved security accomplishes little if we cannot help the district find the money to implement the program.

There is no one solution that fits every district, so part of our work with a district is to help find the most appropriate solution. Let’s examine a few of the options available.


A number of states, including California and Ohio to name but two, have passed legislation that provides unique opportunities for schools to fund security programs.

Typically these laws allow school districts to purchase energy conservation systems and equipment over an extended period of time utilizing the savings produced in energy costs. Time periods are often ten years, making these programs attractive for most size projects and districts.

With 28% of a school’s electric cost going for lighting and 32% for heating, and energy costs representing an average of 2.6% of a school district’s operating budget, substantial cost savings can be generated using modern technology. Efficient lighting, room occupancy sensors, demand heating, computer controlled scheduling and other methods produce significant saving that can be used to pay for not only the energy management system but security programs as well.

A Northern California school district we worked with installed a $ 5.5 million dollar combination energy management and electronic security system in all of the district’s 50 sites, with all costs being paid for from energy savings. In addition, over a ten year period the system will generate a positive cash flow of $ 500,000 above the cost of the system.

In this case, the district is receiving a sophisticated security system and energy management system at no cost. In fact it generates a "profit".

In projects involving energy savings, don’t overlook rebates and financing options available through utility companies. In the case of one California district, the local electric company kicked-in over $ 200,000 towards the project.

Another option for either standalone energy management systems or systems that combine to provide security is performance contracting, a method growing in acceptance. Under a performance contract, the vendor fronts all or a majority of the system costs under either a lease or financed purchase agreement. The systems are then paid for through shared savings, with the vendor keeping a agreed upon portion of the money saved. These shared savings retire the debt and provide the vendor with its profit.

For large systems, typically over $ 5 million, certificates of participation are another option. An underwriter sells certificates of participation to a number of buyers, spreading the risk.

The total sales of the certificates are combined and a master lease is provided to the district for acquisition of the system. The downside of this arrangement is high up front costs, often 2 percent of the total amount financed. The principal advantage to the district is an overall lower interest rate. But these interest savings only are beneficial for large projects, where the interest savings will provide a net savings over the higher underwriter costs.


Your district wants to operate its own central station to monitor all district alarm systems, but when you pencil out the costs it just doesn’t make sense. Do you abandon the idea? No, share the central station with other districts.

Under a straight contractual agreement or a Joint Powers Authority your district can provide monitoring services to other school districts. The result is often lower than open market prices for the other districts and income to offset expenses for your district.


When we have the opportunity to assist districts with their security programs, we look at all facets of the program. Do you have on-call custodians or other district personnel that respond to alarms? Examine the costs associated with these programs, including on-call pay, time and a half or double time pay for call outs, vehicles and other expenses.

It might be cheaper, more efficient and safer for the district to engage a trained, private security firm to make the responses. Often substantial cost savings benefits can be found by "privatizing" some security functions.

In one district we worked with, switching to a private security firm to respond to alarms saves over $ 18,000 annually in custodial costs and $ 30,000 in false alarm fees. The false alarm fine savings comes because the police are only dispatched to schools if the security officers find an actual break-in, reducing false alarm calls to zero.

A number of districts also turn to private security to supplement their own staff at special events or athletic games. It is more cost-effective to hire the additional security help than to increase permanent staff.

A survey conducted by American School and University Magazine found that 17.5 % of all schools contract some portion of their security program to outside vendors.


You might be able to find $ 100,000 or $ 200,000 that could be used towards security programs by just turning out the exterior lights on your sites at night.

With a Lights Out Program, after use of the campus ceases at night, typically after the custodial work is completed, all exterior security lighting is turned off. The theory is that if the burglar can’t see, he can’t steal and if the vandal can’t see, he can’t tag the building or smash out the windows.

On campuses that have tried it, the burglary and vandalism rate went down. The additional benefit of reduced energy costs can be substantial.

One Illinois district we assisted saves over $ 150,000 annually in electric costs alone. The reduction in repair due to vandalism and break-ins has doubled these savings. Another seemingly small, but cost reducing benefit of a Lights Out Program is a cleaner campus. If kids are not hanging out on the campus at night there is less trash.


One way to cut operational costs, freeing up money for expanding projects is reallocating and deploying personnel. A number of districts are using closed circuit cameras and real time transmission of video images to a remote location to more efficiently use staffing. Images from cameras on school sites can be sent over the district’s existing WAN or via a telephone connection.

Instead of dispatching a district employee, the police or a private guard company to respond to an alarm, video signals are sent to the district central station where the operator visually "responds". If the source of the alarm is false, the cost of the response or false alarm fine is saved.

Should the alarm be valid, the district can digitally record the incident to aid the police in apprehension and prosecution.

The strides made in this technology recently have dramatically improved quality and reduced costs. While maybe not reducing personnel in numbers, it will allow those in- place to perform their job more efficiently and make hiring additional people unnecessary.

One district in Alabama saves over $ 700,000 annually in insurance costs using a combination of alarms and CCTV cameras. These savings came from premium reductions over the high rates the district previously paid based on its high incidence of burglary and thefts.


Applying the old adage, doing more with less, school administrators have found that while their security needs have increased, approaching programs creatively can result in better security for fewer dollars. We have found with our work with school districts across the country that there are a myriad of ways to tackle school safety and security, many of which reduce costs or are self-funding.

Reviewing your security program at least every two years can help you discover ways to improve security and make your school safer for fewer dollars. That is a win-win opportunity that benefits everyone.


Return the Fax Information Request to receive a complimentary copy of 99 Tips for Safe Schools. This booklet contains low-cost ideas for school security that have been proven effective by districts all across the United States. It is a great way to help jump start your security program with virtually no cost.

You may also request a copy School Emergencies Involving Violence – A Model Policy. This 26 page booklet helps a district plan for a crisis where a student or staff member could be hurt due to a violent act.

” 2003 Inter/Action Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Kaufer Report is published for the clients and friends of Inter/Action Associates, Inc. on issues of concern to school administrators in the area of school security and safety. The author, Steve Kaufer,CPP assists school districts assess and improve security and is a recognized leader in the design of security programs for educational institutions.
Inter/Action Associates, 1281 N Gene Autry Trail, Ste K, Palm Springs, CA 92262
(760) 322-9097 or toll free at (800) 934-7797