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Pasco County schools consider safe-school officers as cheaper option to SRO’s

The district needs to add security to 47 elementary schools.
New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart listens to the Pasco school district's safety workshop. "We are here to help," Bogart told the School Board. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart listens to the Pasco school district's safety workshop. "We are here to help," Bogart told the School Board. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published Apr. 17, 2018|Updated Apr. 17, 2018

To meet new Florida school safety law, Pasco County school district leaders want to add trained law enforcement officers to all its elementary schools, which don't already have one.

Just one problem, chief finance officer Olga Swinson told the School Board on Tuesday: The district doesn't have enough money to make it happen.

As a result, the district is looking at a less expensive option — $20-per-hour school safety officers. These would be district employees hired solely for providing school security, with the power to stop and detain offenders but no arrest authority.

Even that idea, which the board has yet to bless, has officials concerned that they might struggle to get it done before classes resume in August, as required.

"Being that this is almost May, it's going to be tough to get this done before school starts," superintendent Kurt Browning said. "In fact, it's near impossible."

And, he added, the district will have to spend more than the state provided in safe schools funding. Because they would not have any additional job responsibilities, the district would not be eligible for a portion of the $67 million lawmakers set aside for its new "guardian" program.

The district estimates the school safety officers would cost about $2.1 million to implement, without including training of 132 hours per person.

By contrast, Browning said, the Sheriff's Office has estimated it costs $145,000 per school resource officer to pay for training, salary and benefits, equipment and other expenses. SRO's, who work for law enforcement agencies, also must be paid to work when school is not in session, unlike school safety officers.

Even so, New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart advised the board to look for ways to employ resource officers if at all possible.

He raised some logistical concerns about the safety officer plan, such as what would happen if someone quits and the district does not have a trained substitute available. He also noted the potential problem of delayed communication with law enforcement if something happens on campus.

"For me, I lean toward the SRO system. Because I want the best we can possibly do. But I don't know how we can afford it," Bogart told the board. "I don't want holes in your plan. We want this as a partnership. We are here to help."

Browning agreed.

"I do not know how you do it with the appropriation they have given to us," he said, noting concerns several superintendents have raised about the newly approved state budget.

One option is to dip into district reserves, but the board has not willingly spent down that account in the past, particularly to cover ongoing expenses as these would be.

In any instance, Browning said, the primary objective needs to be to accomplish the stated objective of safe schools. And that, he said, isn't looking to be an easy task.

See the district's safe schools workshop presentation for more details.

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