Leaders make mistakes. The good ones have the courage to acknowledge them and correct them.
Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego alerted the School Board this week that district police Chief Rick Stelljes has decided to return 28 M-16 assault rifles he had quietly bought for $50 each through the U.S. Defense Department's military surplus program. That is the right call. If the school district is to keep its police department, it should focus on the district's education mission, not on increasing its firepower to match other law enforcement agencies.
School Board members were alerted to the purchase last month only after the Washington Post included Pinellas in a story about school districts and colleges that had availed themselves of the weapons program. Grego deferred to Stelljes' judgment but said the goal was to make sure the department's resources were on par with other agencies.
But with 28 assault rifles for 26 sworn personnel, the school district actually had a greater saturation of such weapons. Wisely, the weapons were not to be stored on school campuses. But by locating them elsewhere, their usefulness in a crisis was questionable. Nor was it clear how such a small department would maintain adequate training on such powerful automatic weapons.
Even at the rock-bottom price of $50 each, the assault rifles weren't worth it and sent the wrong message. The school district is smart to recognize the mistake and send them back.