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Florida superintendents ask for more money, flexibility to improve school safety

TALLAHASSEE

In the month since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, officials nationwide have reviewed safety and security plans with fresh, newly sobered eyes. Florida school districts performed lockdown drills, identified campus vulnerabilities and asked law enforcement agencies to increase officer visibility.

And on Tuesday, district superintendents told Florida lawmakers they would welcome more state money to help boost school security. They just don't want too many restrictions on how the additional funding should be spent.

Florida's 67 counties are too diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach to improving school safety, a trio of superintendents told the Senate's Education Committee.

"Some schools may need a fence," St. Johns County superintendent Joseph Joyner said. "Some may need radios. Some may need to change their single-access entry. Some may need personnel."

Wakulla County superintendent Robert Pearce said his county worked with the Sheriff's Office in a way that "increased presence at no cost to our taxpayers." Deputies can come on campus during lunchtime and eat for free, and they are also encouraged to park their cars on school grounds while they complete paperwork.

Leon County superintendent Jackie Pons is taking a regional approach, saying assets like videocamera monitoring can be shared with nearby counties.

"Because of the difficult times we've seen, I think the more that we can share resources together and work together that is something we're going to have to do," he said.

One thing the superintendents did not ask for: armed guards at all of their elementary schools. They said that decision should be left to individual districts and not be required by the Legislature.

The members of the Education Committee mostly asked questions during the meeting, but Sen. David Simmons was ready to weigh in. The Maitland Republican said the answers may reside outside of the school building entirely because "a steady diet of violence" in society has helped create the problems.

"When you have garbage in, you get garbage out," he said. "Until we solve that problem and actually deal with legislation to make selling and dispensing these exceedingly violent games, etc., to children we're going to continue seeing this."

After the meeting, Sen. John Legg, R-Port Richey, the committee chairman, said he is open to all ideas but leans against supporting measures that appeared to "meet violence with violence." He is cool to the idea of allowing teachers to bring guns into the classroom and agreed that superintendents should decide whether more armed guards are needed.

"If the state had the resources, and we may, if we gave the districts some flexibility maybe that money is better spent hardening the campuses, changing the way that the doors operate, putting security cameras in," Legg said.

Today, the Senate's Education Appropriations Subcommittee will focus on how the Legislature may be able to pay for some of the safety measures proposed by school officials.

Contact Tia Mitchell at tmitchell@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Florida superintendents ask for more money, flexibility to improve school safety 01/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 11:31pm]
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