Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight is continuing to discuss school safety options with Sarasota County Schools and pushing for a decision to be made by Monday, March 26, 2018.
In the days following the tragic incident in Parkland, Florida, Sheriff Knight publicly launched his concept of a quasi-school security marshal program enlisting both retired law enforcement and military members to provide security for Sarasota County Schools. Over the course of two weeks, Sheriff Knight met and corresponded with the superintendent and school board as news of Senate Bill 7026 surfaced. On March 9, Governor Rick Scott signed the Marjory Douglas High School Public Safety Act into law, requiring Florida communities to enhance security on school campuses in one of three ways including (a) creating a guardian program which allows non-instructional school staff to carry weapons and enroll in basic law enforcement training, (b) designating school safety specialists and threat assessment teams at every school, or (c) assigning school resource deputies to every school in every community. Along with the new legislation came $400 million dollars appropriated statewide to include more than $97 million dollars designated to school safety programs. These funds are in addition to the nearly $1 million dollars Sarasota County Schools already receives from the Florida Department of Education as part of the safe school allocation program.
Sheriff Knight and staff researched costs of implementing a school safety security program and developed two options. The first puts school resource deputies in the 12 remaining unstaffed Sarasota County elementary schools. If the “School Resource Deputy 1 Program” is selected, expectations closely align with what is currently provided in the 10 schools the sheriff’s office staffs. Deputies would be fully certified, provide mentorship and support to the school and its students in ways beyond just security. The cost of hiring 14 additional school resource deputies is estimated at $2.1 million with a recurring cost of $1.1 million.
The second option is to implement the “School Resource Deputy 2 Program” which will focus on the needed security to be in compliance with Florida law. If selected, the “School Resource Deputy 2 Program” would only provide security while school is in session and students are on campus; there is no expectation for these deputies to teach in the classroom, mentor students, or coach athletics. Deputies will work only 10 months out of the year however, would be fully-certified law enforcement officers and receive training specifically focused on their school security function and the unique provisions of the Marjory Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The estimated startup cost of the “School Resource Deputy 2 Program” is $1.1 million with a recurring cost of $918,077.86. If selected, this option would save the school district more than $961,311.00.
With both options, the sheriff’s office is willing to recruit, hire, and train the 14 new employees. On Wednesday, Sheriff Knight presented the superintendent with both options and a request to select either no later than Monday, March 26. The sheriff’s office is already beginning their budgeting process which, by statute, must be submitted to the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners no later than June 1, 2018. Sheriff Knight is urging the school district to make their selection so the appropriate funding can be incorporated into the 2018-2019 budget.
“It is absolutely critical the school district makes its selection this week,” said Sheriff Knight. “Implementing a school safety program is no longer an option, it’s a requirement by state law. We launched this conversation only days after the Parkland incident and now it’s time for the school district to do its part. To implement either program, personnel and resources will have to be shifted and our level of service will be impacted. Not only is the selection of more than a dozen sworn law enforcement officers a hurdle, but the process of getting them hired and trained will take at least 12 to 18 months. Regardless of which option the school district selects, the sheriff’s office will not waiver when it comes to equipping these men and women with the best training, equipment, and knowledge they need to protect our children.”
The sheriff’s office currently allocates more than $1.5 million dollars annually to its school resource program which includes 14 deputies placed in select schools in unincorporated Sarasota County. In addition to the funding provided by the Marjory Douglas High School Public Safety Act, Sarasota County Schools are expected to receive $56 million in property tax revenue next year. For the 2018-2019 school year, the sheriff’s office is requesting the school district pay 100% of the costs associated with school security.