Atlanta Public Schools poured more than $9 million last year into protecting its students with armed police, cameras and metal detectors.
But that didn't stop a student with a grudge from shooting and injuring a classmate outside Price Middle School.
Coming just weeks after a deadly massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, the shooting last month in Atlanta underscores the challenges schools face: how to keep campuses safe without turning them into police states.
Around metro Atlanta, districts have bolstered their spending on security even as the recession has forced other education cuts and federal grant money for safe schools has evaporated. A review of records by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that eight school districts in the metro area together spent more than $28 million on school security last year, a 23 percent jump from five years earlier. Most of that is for a growing fleet of armed school resource officers, who have become fixtures at middle and high schools.
Some districts have also invested heavily in technology, such as cameras, and hardware, such as fencing and metal locks. In the city of Marietta, school officials recently installed "panic buttons" in classrooms. This week, Cobb County will vote on whether to spend $900,000 in sales tax money to outfit several school entryways with buzzers.
School officials say the spending during tough budget times is needed to keep students safe and focused on learning.
In Cobb County, for instance, the school board has approved tens of millions of dollars in spending for security in recent years even as class sizes have grown and extracurricular funding has dwindled.
"When parents send their kids to schools, we want them to know they're safe and we provide a safe learning environment." explained James Arrowood, the director of the district's department of public safety.
Schools that once used to be open community gathering places have been transformed into fortresses, and experts worry that can translate into a hostile environment for learning.
Some studies show that violence prevention programs have better results with many students, but funding for those initiatives has declined.
And in a time of scarce classroom resources, schools are spending millions of dollars to prevent something statistically unlikely to happen. Records obtained by the AJC show that intruders are rare on Georgia school campuses, making up less than 1 percent of the nearly 178,000 discipline or criminal incidents schools reported in 2012. When intrusions do occur, they're frequently irate parents or expelled students looking to see their friends, not an armed intruder, a sampling of records shows.
Several national studies show that school remains the safest place a child could be.
Still, districts have shifted their security efforts toward external threats, said Garry McGiboney, the associate superintendent of policy and charter divisions for the Georgia Department of Education.
That's only become more pronounced since the Newtown, Conn., shooting that left 26 dead, 20 of them first-graders. There has been a national clamor to hire even more school resource officers. And in Georgia, a bill has cleared a House committee that would arm school employees against gun-toting intruders. The state's school superintendent, John Barge, said he supports the idea of school resource officers at all Georgia schools but has concerns about the cost, which would easily run into the tens of millions of dollars. School resource officers play multiple roles, patrolling hallways and keeping students in check as well as standing guard against intruders.
The emphasis on guns and police leaves some educators uneasy.
"School security and emergency response used to be a foreign concept to teachers, but in recent years, it is becoming a greater priority for school personnel," Leigh Colburn, principal of Marietta High School, told teachers during a recent training on how to respond to school shooters.