Commentary: The Security Vestibule is a Reckless Expenditure


Let me start off by thanking Jenkintown Superintendent Dr. Jill Takacs for bringing this website to the attention of all of Jenkintown. She has given me the opportunity to address this issue in even greater detail. Anyone concerned about the continued independence of the Jenkintown School District needs to be concerned about any expenditure, but certainly one as reckless as this.

The main point I attempted to make in a recent article about the vestibule was that this was money better spent elsewhere. Period.

But let’s dig a little further.


In June of last year, Dr. Takacs sent out an email with the following statement: 

Despite raising taxes to the index for the past two years, the School Board and Administrative Team still needed to mitigate a structural deficit in excess of $800,000 each year.

The “mitigation” included cuts, cost-shuffling, and another significant tax-increase levied upon residents this year. Read her statement carefully. Each year, the district faces large deficits to be closed primarily through tax hikes. Dr. Takacs appeared before the Borough Council one year ago with a presentation that painted a picture of structural deficits into the foreseeable future. This does not bode well for the district’s ultimate sustainability and independence.

Saying that the District “mitigated” the deficit glosses over the fact that homeowners were forced to endure yet another 3% tax hike last year. It’s relatively easy to close a deficit with other people’s money and the threat of homelessness. When we bought our house in 2003, our property taxes were about $3300. Last year they were about $7,000. For this town, we’re on the low end.

Vestibule Estimate

I am not insensitive to the external budgetary pressures imposed upon the District, but this demands that the District buy only what it actually needs. We do not need this vestibule. 

Meeting minutes posted on the JSD website express concerns that the bids were coming in higher than expected. Plus, as anyone who actually follows government expenditures knows, what is budgeted is all-too-often not what is finally paid. Nevertheless, the district is still wasting more than a half-million dollars.

In her response, Dr. Takacs also stated: 

…as has been discussed for over a year at public meeting after public meeting, the funds for the Security Vestibule Project are capital funds. Those funds can only be used for capital improvements. 

Accounting technicalities often provide a convenient cover for self-serving bureaucrats. Someone as educated as Dr. Takacs surely understands the fungibility of money and that budgets are simply a statement of financial priorities. She and the school board ultimately determine the distribution of our tax dollars.

Will a vestibule make our kids safer?

Short answer: No.

Again, Dr. Takacs: 

Finally, as the District Administration, the Board, the Montgomery County School Safety Coordinator, and numerous others have explained over the course of the past year, while a school shooting is one of the risks that a secure vestibule helps guard against, it is far from the only risk.  

But what are those other risks? Dr. Takacs fails to elaborate. Thanks to 9/11 and the recent spate of tragic and high-profile school shootings, a $3 billion school security industry has emerged. Sensible people recognize this for what it is: Homeland Security Theater

The school security industry preys on the fears of parents and administrators who willfully ignore the actual science. We bristle at the pharmaceutical companies conjuring new drugs with better names and higher prices to replace those that do a better job for less money. But they do it because it works — for them. Peddling fear is a hallmark of this regrettable aspect of our capitalist system, but it works because we fall for it. 

The science simply does not support this expenditure. Our children are in far greater danger riding in cars driven by their own parents than they will ever be sitting at a desk in a Jenkintown, Abington, or Cheltenham classroom, where they would have to wait for more than a thousand years for a shooter to arrive. Compared to when we were kids, crime is down.

The worse aspect of succumbing to this fear-mongering is Dr. Takacs taking Jenkintown further down the road toward losing our independence. Her actions work to transform a great school system into a good one while driving more hapless taxpayers out of their own homes as a result.

If Dr. Takacs would like to discuss this further, she may reach me by email at Personally and professionally, I would welcome the opportunity to learn more.

Read Dr. Takacs letter here.