Sarasota County FL April 19 2018 The Sarasota County School Board decided Tuesday to create and manage an internal school security department over the next two years, dramatically shifting course from earlier discussions about continuing and expanding a program employing sheriff’s deputies and police officers from elementary through high schools.
Under the plan — a direct response to demands for increased security because of school shootings — the program would be phased in beginning this fall and completely implemented by the end of the 2019-20 school year, and will cost the district a total of about $3.1 million over those two years. The district plans to hire about 30 employees in the first year and 26 the following year, staffing their elementary schools with the trained and sworn law enforcement officers first and then adding them to middle and high schools.
For the 2018-19 year, Bowden will try to negotiate with local law enforcement agencies to retain the school resource officers in middle and high schools for that year while the district attempts to integrate their new, district-managed police officers at the elementary level. That will cost the district anywhere from an additional $1.4 to $2.5 million.
Three of the board’s five members, Caroline Zucker, Jane Goodwin and Shirley Brown, spoke highly during the meeting of the idea of an internal police department. The concept was compared to the college police forces that staff many higher education campuses.
They will buy into the district and buy into the kids and keep those kids safer because they are responsible and they don’t report to anybody else but the school system,” Zucker said. “I like your plan for two years, because this gives you ample time to be able to put everything in place.”
Goodwin echoed that point, adding that the school police department employees could work with students after school and have a positive impact on their lives.
But School Board members Bridget Ziegler, the chairwoman, and Eric Robinson, were reluctant to quickly sign on to the new program, noting that it was a big task to undertake with only four months before the next school year.
Zucker, reflecting on previous criticism by Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight that the board was moving too slowly on security after the Parkland school shooting in February, countered one of Ziegler’s comments by saying, “We were told we’re moving too slow, and now we’re moving too fast?”