Charter schools firm asks districts to provide resource officers to all its campuses by April 1

Charter Schools USA cites the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act as driving the request.
Pasco Sheriff's Office Cpl. Elissa Elders was school resource officer at Pine View Middle School in 2016. New law now requires all schools to have at least one armed officer. [MICHELE MILLER | Times]
Pasco Sheriff's Office Cpl. Elissa Elders was school resource officer at Pine View Middle School in 2016. New law now requires all schools to have at least one armed officer. [MICHELE MILLER | Times]
Published March 20, 2018|Updated March 20, 2018

Just days after Gov. Rick Scott signed Florida's new school safety rules into law, one of the state's largest charter schools made a big ask of the 13 districts where it operates.

"In keeping with the spirit of the Act, we request that a full time School Resource Officer be provided to each of the public charter schools identified below starting on April 1, 2018," wrote William J. Poirier, chief security officer for Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA.

Many of the districts, including Hillsborough, have declared they cannot afford to place resource officers at each of their own schools, much less at charter schools that operate independently under the district's sponsorship.

Some suggested that while the new school safety law required all public schools have at least one armed "safe-school officer," it does not mandate that school districts pay for and hire the officers to work at the charter schools.

In fact, charter schools are mentioned specifically in just three sections of the measure, relating to mental health assistance funding and security risk assessments.

And where the legislation adds millions of dollars to the safe schools budget — including $97.5 million more for resource officers — it states that the money will be distributed on a proportionate share, just as current safe schools money is allocated.

And that's what leaders in some of the school districts that received Charter Schools USA's request expect to continue to happen.

"For the new funding, charters will receive their pro rated share of the categorical funds and will make their own arrangements for safety and security as they do now," Palm Beach County schools chief of staff Amity Schuyler said.

Broward County spokeswoman Nadine Drew said her district will take a similar approach.

"Broward County Public Schools utilizes local law enforcement agencies to provide on campus resource officers on a contracted basis," Drew said via email. "Charter schools will determine how best to use any allocations defined and approved by the State of Florida in how to meet the requirements of Senate Bill 7026 for each charter school as approved through their Governing Board."

Added Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, Miami-Dade spokeswoman, "It is anticipated that each Miami-Dade charter school will determine how best to meet the requirements of the law as approved through its independent governing board."

Hillsborough County school district officials said their legal and legislative affairs departments were reviewing the firm's letter in conjunction with the law.

Poirier explained via email that Charter Schools USA wants the resource officers to heighten security and to strengthen relationships between students and law enforcement.

"We have seen the benefits of involved SROs at some of our high schools and look forward to those same benefits in all of our schools," he wrote. "With the passing of this law, we desire immediate access to resources to best protect our students and employees at our schools," Poirier added, explaining the April 1 date in his letter.

Asked why the districts should be responsible for hiring the officers rather than the charter schools, he stated, "The law notes on multiple occasions that the district is the pathway for resources to the charter schools. We will partner with each district to do our best to ensure that our students receive the proper portion of the resources that will maximize their safety."

Other districts that have Charter Schools USA schools include Clay, Collier, Duval, Lee, Leon, Manatee, Orange, Osceola and St. Lucie. We have asked them about their plans regarding the firm's request, and are awaiting their responses.