TAMPA — As the Hillsborough County School District once more contemplates a multimillion-dollar school security plan, it is losing its longtime security chief.
After 20 years on the job, David Friedberg says he will step down as early as January, allowing for a transition to the next chief.
"I have two grandchildren. I have a third on the way," Friedberg, 60, said Wednesday. "I have accomplished pretty much all I have set out to do in the last 20 years with the school district, and I think this is the opportune time."
Friedberg's decision comes as the board prepares to vote on placing armed guards — called community school officers — in all of its elementary schools.
Unlike the plan proposed in January by superintendent MaryEllen Elia, this one would be phased in over four years. When fully implemented, it would cost $4.5 million a year. Friedberg said he fully endorses it.
While the board rejected the earlier plan, some members have since become more willing to consider a revised version.
But it's not a lock. Board member Candy Olson, who supports the plan, will be in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, when the board had intended to vote on it. Earlier this week, chairwoman Carol Kurdell said the vote will be taken on another day.
Board member Cindy Stuart, a critic of the plan, said the board should have had the chance to discuss the schedule change. "I don't disagree that all board members should be present for this very important conversation and decision," she wrote in an email to Elia and other board members. But "the board as a whole could have made the decision to move forward or delay."
Elia later sent her own email, explaining why the vote was moved: The agenda is busy, there is not yet a contract for a component that involves the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, and principals want to see it considered by the full board.
Instead, there will be a specially called meeting on Dec. 18.
Board member Stacy White said that although the Tuesday vote was his idea, he appreciated the need to include the full board. But he was taken aback by word of Friedberg's retirement.
"Absolutely, that would be a huge factor for me in making my decision," he said.
Before hearing the news, he said he was willing to consider a variation of the plan that would have schools share officers.
Now, he said, "It just makes me think I don't know where I am on this point."
Stuart also was troubled that the district's top security official will not be around to implement the plan.
Olson, however, said of Friedberg: "He's very good. But no one individual is essential. And I have to think that if he had any doubts, he would have put it off."
Friedberg agreed his departure should not be a factor. "I hope that would not be the case at all," he said. "I'm not the system. I'm just a person within the system, and the system is solid."
Friedberg joined the district after 22 years in the Air Force as a security police officer.
"Twenty years ago, we weren't focused on crisis management or single points of entry or secure campuses," he said. "We are today. That's part of my transition. I've been part of moving a district from community schools and open campuses to, still community schools, but secure campuses."
He said a department that once had 47 employees now has 115, including officers at 19 elementary schools. They provide safety lessons for children, maintain traffic control at dropoff and pickup times and discourage angry parents from becoming disruptive. They're also considered the first responders in case of an emergency.
Elia's plan would extend the service to all 146 elementaries.
Friedberg said he is proud of the relationship his department enjoys with law enforcement agencies. Because of that, he says the elementary school officers don't need to have arrest powers. They do, however, carry guns.
"We have a unique setup," he said. Other large Florida districts contract with law enforcement agencies — something Hillsborough does for high school and middle schools — or have in-house police departments with arrest powers.
Hillsborough's school guards train with law enforcement officers, Friedberg said. Some are retired police officers; others have previous experience as prison or security guards. They earn an average of $28,664.
Local law enforcement officers generally start at around $40,000 and sometimes earn more than $100,000.