Thursday, November 15, 2018

Florida Board of Education explores flexibility for school guardian funding

Taking a lead from Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Board of Education member Michael Olenick on Friday pushed his colleagues to offer school districts flexibility in how they spend money set aside for security in the state budget.

"They're asking for this, and I think it's the least we can do," Olenick said, during discussion of the board's 2019-20 legislative budget request.

The budget request includes $67.5 million for districts to hire school guards — funds that cannot go toward other security expenses, including sworn law enforcement resource officers.

Scott asked the Joint Legislative Budget Commission to release $58 million in guardian funding that has gone unused this year. The commission ignored that request in its Friday hourlong meeting.

Olenick aimed to infuse the idea of more flexible use of funds into the coming year's spending plan. He noted that school districts have struggled to meet the security requirements set by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act, and that their leaders know best how to protect their students.

The state superintendents association advocated on Thursday for the transfer of unused guardian funds to school general operations, so they can hire more resource officers and pay for school hardening projects. (See the group's letter for details.)

"I don't have the responsibility that they do," Olenick said, suggesting the board defer to local judgment and encourage lawmakers to do the same.

Board member Ben Gibson, a one-time Scott adviser, agreed that "we want flexibility." At the same time, he added, "can we also see how this program works?"

He noted that the guard concept has had just a few months to play out, and no one has results on whether it works well. Gibson suggested tying the idea of any flexibility to a legislative evaluation of the actual operations.

Olenick said he was not interested in postponing the recommendation. He made a motion to include his idea in the legislative budget request as a suggested policy objective.

His motion failed, after no one offered a second.

Afterward, board chairwoman Marva Johnson said she would be interested in having further discussion on spending flexibility, separate from the budget request but  in advance of the legislative session.

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