Budget restrictions could prompt Pasco County Schools to hire armed school security officers to work in the district’s 47 elementary schools.
The district is considering using that approach — instead of using certified law enforcement officers — because of finances, said Kurt Browning, superintendent of schools.
“The money that they’ve (the Florida Legislature) given us is not enough to go the full-blown SRO (School Resource Officer) program,” he said.
The district has School Resource Officers at its middle schools and high schools, but needs to add armed security at its elementary schools to comply with a new state law, which was passed in response to the slayings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The estimated cost for a single SRO during the first year would be $145,000, which includes a car and necessary equipment, Browning said.
“You’re talking a lot of money that we do not have,” the superintendent said.
A school security officer would be less expensive because the district would not provide a car, and he or she would be a district employee working the 180-day school calendar year.
Using school security officers also would require 132 hours of training and a psychological evaluation before the employee could be hired.
New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart urged Pasco County School Board members to be very careful in making their security plans.
“This is a tough situation. I get it. I’ve been a cop a lot of years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this, this mandate that we have,” Bogart said. “It is so important that we get it right.
“I lean toward the SRO system, because I want the best that we can possibly do, but I don’t know if we can afford it,” Bogart said.
He also told board members that the district must be sure its plan includes officers who can fill in when others are out.
“if you go with the security officer concept, if you have turnover, when is the next academy for that? Do you have people lined up, if there’s an absence at a school, that somebody else can fill in? The next academy could be three months away,” Bogart said.
He also noted that SROs working in New Port Richey cannot leave school campuses, unless they have someone there to relieve them.
Once the law was signed, Bogart said he made it a mandate: “The officers can’t leave to go for lunch. They have to bring their lunch. If they have to leave because of court, or they’re ill, or anything, there will be another officer that relieves that person.
“These are things I think you really need to be thinking about now because the clock is ticking,” Bogart said.
School board member Alison Crumbley told Bogart she appreciated his comments. “We are now in the security business,” she said.
Regardless of the option that the district pursues, it will be difficult to find enough qualified people to fill the slots, Browning said.
“To be frank, it’s going to be a concern for us to find 50 people to fill 50 slots between now and Aug. 1 that will meet the criteria,” the superintendent said.
Community meetings on school safety
Representatives from Pasco County Schools will give a presentation on school safety and will field questions from the public.
- May 2 at 6 p.m., at River Ridge High School cafeteria, 11646 Town Center Road in New Port Richey.
- May 7 at 6 p.m., at Wiregrass Ranch High School cafeteria, 2909 Mansfield Blvd., in Wesley Chapel.
Published April 25, 2018