Pinellas County Schools' internal police force could become a thing of the past under a cost-savings proposal being presented today to the School Board.
The 26-person unit would move to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. The district would pay $1.9 million over three years for police service. It currently pays about that much each year for salaries, benefits and other operating expenses.
School district police officers work in Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor and Carwise middle schools and in special education centers and alternative schools. Other schools are covered through contracts with outside law enforcement agencies at a cost of about $1.6 million a year.
District officials kept the proposal a secret from the public until pressed for the information Wednesday. It was listed vaguely under another item on the agenda for today's board work session. A copy of a draft contract, which spells out the proposal, wasn't posted to the district's website, as typically required by state law, until a reporter complained.
Deputy superintendent William Corbett said Wednesday that the item was being brought by the Sheriff's Office and was held back from public view because it was in draft form. He said district officials wanted a chance to explain it to School Board members, who might not want to pursue the proposal.
"This could be over in two minutes tomorrow," he said.
Board members received the proposal Wednesday only because a reporter asked for it, Corbett said. Before that, at least two board members said they didn't think a formal proposal existed.
The draft contract has an effective date of Monday, but Corbett said it wouldn't be possible to approve it by then. Board members don't vote during work sessions, and it's too late to add the item to a special meeting scheduled later today.
Board member Linda Lerner said she was distressed by how the proposal was handled and had several questions about it, including whether the district had negotiated any of the terms in the draft.
"This is an item that needs to be discussed in great detail by the board," she said.
Board member Peggy O'Shea said she didn't think the item was intentionally hidden. It might have been a result of the coordination between the agencies, she said. "It's a starting-off point if we do anything with it."
Staff Writer Lisa Gartner contributed to this story. Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.