Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough School Board will take up security issue again

TAMPA — They called her a hero. They gave her a plaque with a miniature school bus.

Celebrated by the Hillsborough County School Board on Nov. 12, bus driver Debra Dryden said this about the 9-year-old from Ippolito Elementary School whom she had caught six days earlier with a gun:

"I feel very sorry for this young man and what he's done. I'm sure he did not have complete comprehension of what he was doing and where it was going to lead to."

Alarmed by incidents such as the one on the Ippolito bus, board members are moving closer to adopting a plan to put armed security officers in the district's elementary schools.

Almost a year after the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings in Connecticut, they are considering a plan that ultimately would cost $4.5 million a year.

That's roughly double what the district now contributes toward having Tampa police officers and Hillsborough sheriff's deputies in the middle and high schools.

And it comes on top of another $4 million the district spends on an in-house security department that already puts guards at 19 elementary schools.

The board has held workshops to discuss security since it voted down superintendent MaryEllen Elia's original plan to put guards in all elementary schools at once. But members spent much of that time listening to presentations from staff, law enforcement and a security consultant.

In recent months, members have met individually with Elia to discuss the new plan, which would spread out the hiring over four years.

The biggest issues are how the district would pay for the plan and whether it is doing all it can to prevent violence by staffing the schools with social services workers.

The district says it can raise some of the money through savings it realizes by freezing non­emergency hiring for months at a time.

To answer the second question, the staff provided detailed information on the way schools are staffed with psychologists, guidance counselors, social workers and nurses. It adds up to roughly $60 million in salary and benefits, reports show.

Board member April Griffin, who at first argued for a holistic approach that would include more prevention, said recently she is warming to the idea of hiring the guards. So did chairwoman Carol Kurdell, who voted against the plan initially because of funding concerns.

Candy Olson said the issue is complicated, with elementary schools needing much more assistance in responding to social issues they see in children and parents.

"There is a legitimate concern about a crazy person coming on campus with a gun," she said. "But the real issue is that every day, there are things that distract principals from being instructional leaders in their schools."

Still, Olson said, she now finds herself fully in favor of the security plan. She's come to appreciate the relationships that school resource officers build with children, she said. She realizes help is needed if a child runs away.

And she likes that the hiring will happen in phases.

"The proposal has evolved," she said. "We had some real conversations about our concerns. It's not just going to be a guy with a gun."

Unlike many other school districts, Hillsborough uses guards who are armed but who are not sworn law enforcement officers and cannot make arrests. That's possible because Hillsborough County does not have many law enforcement agencies, and the district has strong relationships with the ones it does have, said chief David Friedberg, who heads the security department.

The guards and their law enforcement counterparts seek to keep students out of the criminal justice system. "That's not just our philosophy; that's Florida statute," he said.

Critics of the plan, however, say the end result will be the same: more children disciplined, especially children of color.

"When you have a uniformed person, you are going to emphasize a law enforcement solution," said Michael Pheneger, Florida president of the American Civil Liberties Union. "They have a police mentality. And, frankly, you hire police to have a police mentality."

A retired U.S. Army colonel who also heads the Tampa ACLU chapter, Pheneger has been analyzing data on academic performance, graduation rates and school discipline of white, black and Hispanic students in Hillsborough.

"Minority students are underperforming, over-arrested and over-disciplined," Pheneger said. "If you have $4.5 million to spare, why not spend it on ways to improve the performance of minority students in our schools?"

Friedberg did not disagree that more arrests could result from increased security.

"When you have someone in uniform in proximity to other people, it certainly increases the likelihood of increased reporting of incidents," he said.

"This is one of the things we are going to look at as we move forward."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

Hillsborough School Board will take up security issue again 11/27/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 10:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31

    Blogs

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  2. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win

    Blogs

    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  3. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.
  4. Trump fallout: Bucs' DeSean Jackson to make 'statement' Sunday

    Bucs

    Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson said Saturday that he will make a "statement" before today's game against the Vikings in response to President Donald Trump's comment that owners should "fire" players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) makes a catch during the first half of an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.
  5. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter

    Blogs

    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle