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Pat Fagan backs more security at Hernando School Board meetings

BROOKSVILLE — A School Board member who hesitated to support extra security at board meetings now says he will support a deputy or guard on the premises — a stance that will likely tip the balance on the issue.

Board member Pat Fagan was ill Tuesday and could not make the board's afternoon workshop, but he watched the television as his four colleagues deadlocked on what direction, if any, to give district staffers to enhance security at the board's evening meetings.

Eventually, the board agreed to meet soon behind closed doors to be briefed by safety and security director Barry Crowley on what current security measures are already in place, then decide how to proceed.

That's a good idea, but it's probably not enough, Fagan told the St. Petersburg Times by phone shortly after the discussion.

"No matter what we have there, I don't think it's going to help us unless we have an individual there at the time of the meeting," he said.

In an interview with the Times last week, Fagan said he was hesitant to approve extra security, but would hear out his fellow board members. On Tuesday, he said chairman James Yant and member Dianne Bonfield had convinced him: The board needs to do something to provide for the safety of not just its own members, but also for staff, parents, children and other people who attend the twice-monthly meetings.

Yant had asked superintendent Bryan Blavatt to come back with options for more security in the wake of the shooting at a Bay County School Board meeting in December. The gunman, apparently angry that his wife had lost her teaching job, killed himself with his own gun after being shot by a security guard.

Bonfield on Tuesday invoked that incident and last month's shooting in Arizona that critically injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and left six people dead.

"I think we have to look realistically at the world today," Bonfield said. "It's the times we live in. Anybody is capable of anything at any time, you just don't know who it is."

Bonfield, citing a memo from Crowley, noted what she described as a reasonable cost for a guard or deputy. Of various possible measures, Crowley had recommended a uniformed, armed person as "a very strong deterrent to violence" without resorting to metal detectors and bag searches.

People's behavior gets more unpredictable in tough economies, when politicians are forced to make tough decisions that could cost jobs, Yant said. But there are parents and children at meetings too.

"We have the responsibility to protect our students and protect our employees," Yant said.

Board member John Sweeney said there are plenty of other school events that could justify security too.

"I think this is a leap, and I'm not ready to make that kind of leap," Sweeney said.

Member Cynthia Moore was adamantly opposed to spending any money on security for the board.

"Whatever money's there ought to be spent at the schools for children's security," Moore said.

The funds would be better spent, she said, on Challenger K-8, the only middle school in the district without a school resource officer.

A uniformed, off-duty deputy would cost the district $23 per hour with a three-hour minimum, or $69 per meeting. The total cost for the balance of the year is estimated at $828.

A private security guard like those stationed at the entrances to the Hernando Government Center would run $15 per hour, with the same three-hour minimum. The bill for the rest of the year would run about $540.

The board's regular evening meetings rarely run longer than three hours. Most end within two hours.

The board could opt to have a guard or deputy search bags and scan visitors with metal detecting wands. That would require two deputies at $138 per three-hour meeting, or two security guards at a cost of $81 per three-hour meeting, according to Crowley's memo. One officer or guard could move into the boardroom once the meeting starts, while the other would continue to scan late-arrivals.

A guard or deputy could ask a visitor to open a bag for a visual inspection and to remove an item if there is a concern, Crowley said. An X-ray machine like those at the Hernando Government Center would cost nearly $20,000.

The district already owns handheld wands. A walk-through metal detector like those at the Hernando Government Center would run about $2,900.

The board did not set a meeting with Crowley. Exemptions to Florida's open government law allow elected officials to hold closed meetings when discussing security.

"We have things I guarantee none of you are aware of," Crowley told the board. "I can't discuss those items in public."

The district could probably tweak its current security measures, said the superintendent, who held off on making a recommendation. But Blavatt said recently that it makes sense to scan visitors for weapons as they enter the building.

In other action, the board:

• voted unanimously to fire bus driver Ronald Pizzo, 63, who fell asleep at the wheel in December, resulting in a rear-end collision with a pickup truck in Brooksville. No students were on board, and no one was injured, but Pizzo had caused at least three minor crashes since joining the district in 2006, records show.

• voted to suspend without pay Roseann Delvalle, 55, a food and nutrition assistant at Springstead High School, while she contests Blavatt's petition to fire her. Delvalle drove a box truck away from the fuel pump at the district's facilities compound in Brooksville last November, snapping off the nozzle that was still in the truck's tank but didn't report the incident and told a facilities worker the pump was like that when she arrived. She admitted the truth when confronted with surveillance video.

Delvalle has hired an attorney and her case will likely be heard by an administrative law judge, who will make a nonbinding recommendation to the School Board.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Pat Fagan backs more security at Hernando School Board meetings 02/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 7:14pm]

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