Florida state lawmakers on Sunday made it official with the approval of a new state budget that includes increased funding for education and specifically school safety.
But there are a lot of numbers, and some school leaders and law enforcement officials say they don't quite add up.
The $400 million school-safety initiative, passed in the wake of the deadly Valentine's Day shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school, includes $162 million to hire more law enforcement officers under the state's “safe schools” program. An additional $69 million is included for school mental health programs.
Statewide, an additional 1,500 deputies are needed for every school campus to be staffed, according to the Florida Education Association. The Florida Sheriffs Association estimates it will cost about $360 million to comply.
However, the newly approved budget includes just $162 million for the school resource officer program, leading school leaders and law enforcement officials to already begin to question where the money will come from to make up the difference.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he expects he will need to hire 92 additional deputies at a cost of $6.2 million to comply with the law.
Pinellas County schools will be receiving $2.9 million dollars to hire additional resource officers. Currently, a dedicated school resource officer is assigned to every middle and high school while about two dozen county deputies rotate through the district's elementary schools and other school centers.
In an open letter published Saturday, the superintendent for Pinellas County schools, Michael Grego, said the new budget leaves his district dealing with a nearly $3 million deficit.
"It’s clear that the additional safe schools and mental health funding has come on the backs of teachers and students,” Grego wrote in the letter.
Manatee County schools will receive about $1.5 million to hire additional resource officers, according to state budget documents. But a district spokesperson said officials had not had a chance to evaluate the data to determine how much of the tab the state would pick up. However, spokesperson Mike Barber did divulge that it cost the district $600,000 just to add an armed law enforcement officer to every school for the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year. In other words, 34 additional officers for about two months cost $600K.
The district made headlines in late February when the school board leapfrogged the Legislature and approved paying for extra officers to be at every school in the district through the rest of the year.
"We worked hard with local law enforcement agencies to place armed law enforcement officers in all of our schools beginning last Monday," said spokesperson Mike Barber. "We are focused on a 1 mill referendum vote, scheduled for Tuesday, March 20, to increase teacher and staff pay."
Allocated for SROs: $6.4M.
A spokesperson with Hillsborough County Public Schools told 10News they would need 147 more SRO's to meet the state's mandate of at least one SRO in every school. The district estimates that will cost approximately $10M just for the district's portion. Hillsborough County Public Schools shares the cost of SRO's with law enforcement agencies.
Allocated for SROs: $2.2M
Public Information Officer Linda Cobbe with Pasco County Schools expects the district will need to hire about 47 additional SRO's to ensure there is one in every school. Each additional SRO will cost the district about $62,000, totaling $2.9M, leaving the county with a $700K deficit.
Allocated for SROs: $3.1M
To provide just one SRO at each of their schools, Polk County Public Schools would need approximately $5M annually, according to spokesperson Jason Geary.
The district currently has 45 school resource officers but would need at least 105 more to meet the state mandate. With the state only allocating $3.1M, Polk County is looking at a nearly $2M deficit.
Allocated for SROs: $1.3M
A district spokesperson did not respond with our specific requests but did reveal that their current year budget for SROs is slightly more than $1.3M and that's without an SRO at each school in the district. In an e-mail spokesperson Tracey Beeker said, "We receive $950,000 in Safe Schools funding as part of the Florida Education Finance Program to cover the SRO expense, however our current costs exceed this budget. If we were to have a minimum of one SRO in each school, that would well exceed $1.3M."
Since lawmakers allocated insufficient money to pay for a resource deputy at every school, and districts can meet the requirement through a combination of deputies and guardians, some officials have begun to express worry that arming staff might be the affordable option for some districts.
The school safety bill Gov. Rick Scott signed includes a voluntary guardian program called the Aaron Feis Guardian program, named in honor of the Parkland high school assistant football coach killed in the Feb. shooting.
But school leaders in some of the state's largest districts—including Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas—have already said they will not be allowing staff or teachers to carry guns.
The Tallahassee Democrat contributed to this report.
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