Thursday, May 10, 2018

School security not law enforcement’s problem, Florida Sheriff’s Association says

Jeff Solochek Tampa Bay Times May 10, 2018

It's not a secret: Florida's school districts are struggling to find enough money to place armed security on each campus, as now required by law.

What's new lately is many local governments have begun saying they won't help out with their law enforcement departments. In the past few days, both the Pinellas and Manatee county commissions have told their districts to go it alone.

The Citrus County School Board, meanwhile, took the unusual step of committing its entire safe schools budget plus extra funds allocated this year to the Sheriff's Office, to make sure sworn officers are assigned to every county school.

If you're wondering why the agencies, which generally have cooperated in the past, are taking such stances, you might need to look no further than a May 2 legal opinion the Florida Sheriff's Association lawyer has drafted.

The four-page document, which is circulating throughout the state, argues that the Legislature put school districts — not law enforcement — on the hook for the expenses of guarding the schools.

"It is apparent the Act requires school districts to fund any general appropriations shortfall either through reallocating funds under their respective budgets or accessing their reserved funds or raising their millage rates," association general counsel Wayne Evans wrote.

Several school boards have discussed asking voters to approve property tax rate increases to help pay for security. Some plan to hold referendums as early as this fall.

Evans pointed to Florida statute on funding for school operations (1011.62) to support his position. The section on categorical funding, as amended this spring, states specifically that if a district finds its categorical funds are urgently needed for classroom instruction or school safety improvements, "the school board may consider and approve an amendment to the school district operating budget transferring the identified amount of the categorical funds to the appropriate account for expenditure."

Sheriff's offices are not included in that section, Evans noted, suggesting that the clear meaning is that districts carry the budgetary responsibility for school security.

District leaders across the state have as a result begun scaling back their plans to add resource officers to their schools. Increasingly, they are looking to create less expensive security guard positions, with retired officers and military veterans as the likely candidates for those jobs.

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