1. Education

Security guards to be temporary fix in Pinellas schools

The Pinellas County School Board plans to use security guards, rather than sworn law enforcement officers, as a stop-gap measure to fill some positions in schools. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published May 11, 2018

Dealing with a tight deadline and not enough money, the Pinellas County school district is veering from its plan to place sworn law enforcement officers in every school, opting instead to hire designated security guards for some positions.

Superintendent Michael Grego confirmed Friday that the district is pursuing what he called a "stop-gap measure" to comply with a new state mandate by the start of the next school year while giving the district's in-house police department time to hire more people. School Board members will vote on the plan at a special meeting on May 22.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the security officers will go through background checks, psychological screenings and rigorous training through his agency. Grego emphasized will be devoted to defending the school, similar to a plan rolled out this week by Hillsborough officials.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hillsborough security plan: trained armed guards in 100 more elementary schools.

"We're not arming anyone that's currently working," he said. "These are specific security officers that will go through this training (and) will not have another job on these school sites additional to that."

The decision comes amid a standoff between local governments over who would pay for the multimillion-dollar endeavor to add dozens of school resource officers and deputies, primarily to elementary schools.

The legislative mandate, passed in response to February's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, requires that Florida's school districts place armed guards in every school.

Pinellas School Board members opted to fill the positions with sworn law enforcement. The district reached out to the Sheriff's Office and city police departments to help fund the effort.

Largo and Pinellas County declined, leaving the School Board on the hook for 32 elementary and five high schools in their jurisdictions that need either a first or second armed guard. The Sheriff's Office staffing alone would have cost the county an additional $2.7 million.

READ MORE: Pinellas commissioners won't pay for more deputies in schools.

Faced with the daunting and expensive task of hiring the officers needed to fill the gap, Grego and Gualtieri, who, along with the School Board, must authorize use of security officers, changed course.

"This is the only thing to do," the sheriff said Friday. "They (the School Board) are not going to fund it. The county's not going to fund it. There's no other option."

Grego said the "two-pronged approach" will give the district more flexibility on a tight deadline. He's aiming to hire 40 armed guards through some mix of police and security officers. The latter will make $18 to $20 an hour. District police officers make $20 to $22 an hour. Which schools will get which protection is yet to be determined.

The goal is still to have law enforcement officers in every school, either through the district police department or through partnerships with city police departments, Grego said. But the district may have more slots to fill either this school year or next depending on direction from other cities.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: School security not law enforcement's problem, Florida Sheriff's Association says.

Tarpon Springs and Gulfport have agreed to hire new school resource officers, taking them out of the mix.

St. Petersburg has proposed taking cops off the street to fill the spots, although Chief Anthony Holloway said he's meeting with Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday to further discuss options. Pinellas Park Council members also gave the nod this week to cutting officers elsewhere to staff their schools, but only for a year. Clearwater is undecided, although the City Council favored at a recent work session a plan to hire part-time officers.

Reached Friday, School Board members seemed supportive of the idea, but only as a temporary solution.

"As a stopgap measure, it may be the best thing," board member Carol Cook said, adding that she'd still prefer to have school resource officers.

Board member Peggy O'Shea said she understands the pinch local agencies are in when it comes to the school safety staffing mandate.

"We understand it's a lot of money for all of them. It's a lot of money for all of us too, and it has to be done in a very short time," she said. "If the sheriff doesn't want to do additional schools, that's fine, we'll take it on. We will increase our schools' police over time to cover it."

Contact Kathryn Varn at or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.


  1. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView use ground penetrating radar technology to scan a portion of King High campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, October 23, 2019.  OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  2. The Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    Department of Education attorneys say the lower courts ruled properly in tossing the case.
  3. Pasco County School Buses. Times (2018)
    The School Board also approved a student calendar for 2020-21, with Aug. 10 as the first day of classes.
  4. Enterprise Village in Largo is celebrating 30 years this month. The facility, which provides hands-on education about economics, has served generations of children across the Tampa Bay area. In this photo from Nov. 7, fifth-graders from Safety Harbor Elementary School begin their day at the village. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    More than 400,000 kids in the Tampa Bay region have gone through the program, which offers a hands-on look at the free enterprise system.
  5. Students at Dunedin Elementary welcomed teacher Stephanie Whitaker back to campus the morning after she was named Pinellas Teacher of the Year in February 2012. The 2019-20 winner will be announced Jan. 29 at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Ten finalists have been selected. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  6. Florida dropped one spot to 45th on the National Education Association's annual list of average teacher salaries. [National Education Association]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  7. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2018)
Hernando County School District Headquarters, Brooksville
    The district has also promised to look for ways to bring insurance costs down for 2021 and beyond.
  8. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor (far right) and her dog Alcaldesa joined students from Rampello K-8 Magnet School on a Nov. 14 walk across the school's newly-painted crosswalk, located at the intersection of Jefferson and Washington streets in downtown Tampa. CITY OF TAMPA  |  City of Tampa
    Hundreds of transportation and public safety advocates from across the country brought their ideas to Tampa for the Safe Routes to School National Conference.
  9. Colleen Beaudoin is selected Pasco County School Board chairwoman for 2020, and Allen Altman is named vice chairman. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    Altman chosen as vice chairman.
  10. Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at pre-legislative news conference on Tuesday Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    He’s got a new voucher proposal, as well.