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Hillsborough School Board says no to Elia's security plan

In the opening minutes of the Hillsborough County School Board meeting on Tuesday, the board agreed to consider superintendent MaryEllen Elia's $3.7-million-a-year school security plan in components.

Member Candy Olson made the motion, which passed unanimously.

Elia's plan, which reflects meetings with law enforcement that began almost immediately after the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, Conn., will place armed and trained personnel in all of the district's schools.

The 130 new security employees, who would provide coverage in elementary schools, would complement 78 resource officers who already work at the district's middle and high schools.

Audience members had mixed opinions of the plan on Tuesday.

Parent Kelly Scott said, "I don't understand the rationale of keeping guns out of the schools by bringing more guns into the schools. I think that as a community, we can do better than that."

Tom Allyn, retired from both law enforcement and the military, also spoke out against the plan.

"Our problem, which we are not addressing, is deranged people," he said. "Find ways to secure access. Spend the money on our teachers."

Two elementary school principals, meanwhile, spoke in favor of the plan. Karen Bass, principal of Bryant Elementary School, said Elia's plan has the support of the district's elementary principal's council as well.

To Elia's critics, she said, "I think there's a difference between a knee-jerk reaction and a fast and well thought out reaction."

Julie Scardino, principal of Sulphur Springs Elementary, also supports it.

Her school, which serves a high-crime Tampa neighborhood, already has a resource officer.

"He is not seen as an armed guard," she said. "He is a member of the school staff. He is a member of our community."

The costs, including $1.2 million to make structural improvements to schools where access is not secure enough, would add up to about $2 million this year.

Costs for 2013-2014, the first full year, would be $4.1 million, then $3.7 million each year after that.

Hillsborough beefed up security in its 142 elementary schools just days after the Connecticut shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Costs for this interim coverage have been absorbed by the law enforcement agencies. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office pays overtime. The Tampa Police Department uses existing patrol officers. In both cases, the officers are there primarily in the morning and at dismissal.

Elia's plan would enlist school safety expert Michael Dorn as a consultant, at a cost of $8,500. And the district would continue its crisis management training.

The 130 new security officers would be private security, not law enforcement. Candidates might include retired military and law enforcement officials, or individuals with no military or police training at all.

The school district would train all of these officers, a process that Elia estimated would take five to six weeks. In addition to security, they would work inside the schools as resource officers do, a job that includes crime prevention and education.

The first year's costs of $2 million would come from a contingency account of close to $100-million. Elia and the board members guarded that account fiercely during the recession, refusing to dip into it even when teachers went without pay raises.

After the initial $2-million, Elia proposed that costs be funded through the district budget.

Hillsborough School Board says no to Elia's security plan 01/15/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 12:21pm]
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