BRADENTON – Heavy debate over placing private armed security for Manatee County elementary school campuses continued at Tuesday's school board workshop and subsequent meeting, when a proposal for a contract between the district and Sarasota Security Patrol narrowly passed, with board members Dave Miner and Robert Gause dissenting.
The vote came after a workshop that took place the day after Critical Intervention Services, one of the security companies that lost the bid for a contract with the district, sent the board a 28 page letter which made various allegations, including an unfair RFP (Request For Proposal) process.
During a presentation given to the board at Tuesday's workshop, Troy Pumphrey, the district's investigator in its Office of Professional Standards, went over the process he said the administration went through for the RFP, and noted that after a series of public surveys taken within the community showed that 87% of respondents listed safety and security as a top priority outside of academic functions the administration "decided that providing an instant response to an immediate threat," and providing "staff, students and parents with peace of mind" were very important goals for the district.
Pumphrey said that the staffing of School Resource Officers from local law enforcement to the county's elementary schools was considered as the top option by administration, but the financial cost compelled them to consider private security. Pumphrey gave a $144,925 yearly cost to the district for a single sheriff's deputy SRO, or $4,637,000 for all 32 elementary school campuses without an armed guard; and $30,477.51 yearly for a single private security guard, or just over 975,000 for all campuses (some opponents of the decision have argued that going with private security was not fair as the original citizens' survey did not ask if such security would be acceptable.)
Pumphrey said the district also considered placing about six law enforcement SRO's to the various elementary school campuses as has been done by the Sheriff's Office in the past, but it was determined that six "was not an adequate number" to cover all 32 schools.
In regards to Pumphrey's presence on the Evaluation Committee that gave scores for each bidder – which CIS questioned in their letter, noting that the winning bidder (Sarasota Security) had listed Pumphrey as a reference, Purchasing Department Employee Stephanie McDonald advised that Mr. Pumphrey was told by Purchasing that he was required to be on the committee.
Dave Miner, who has been the school board's most vocal opponent of hiring private security, said that that the RFP process "has raised questions about the competency and integrity of this district" and that the vote should be tabled until the community has more time to review the allegations contained in CIS's letter. Manatee County resident Inaki Rezola, speaking during public comments, also asked that the board give the public more time to review all the information.
Robert Gause said he was not prepared to sign an agreement for armed security, and that the $1 million listed in the proposal could be spent to strengthen safety and security measures elsewhere. He suggested the board look at its school bus situation, noting that the district does not have enough bus drivers for all of the buses needed to transport its students, with school staff having to fill the empty drivers' seats.
Board Chair Julie Aranibar and members Barbara Harvey and Karen Carpenter all voted to approve the proposal. Harvey, who has been a strong proponent of the proposal, said "there's no one thing that's going to make a difference in securing children but [we ought to do anything] that's going to help them." Carpenter said she saw private security as a "stop gap" before the district's surpluses grow and that she would eventually be receptive to hiring law enforcement SROs on elementary campuses. Aranibar said the vast majority of the emails she's received from county residents on the proposal have been positive, with some asking why the district has "waited so long (to implement security)."
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