BRADENTON - An armed School Resource Officer program for all of Manatee County's elementary schools was discussed during the school board's budget hearing on Thursday, after administration announced that $2 million in additional reserves had been discovered for the coming school year's budget. The program is implemented in the district’s 2014-15 tentative budget, which was approved at the same meeting.
Speaking about the program during the meeting, Deputy Superintendent Don Hall said that safety/security was the highest stated priority as advised both the local community and the school board, and the program was a response to that as well as the newly found additional millions in reserves.
Hall also said that the Manatee Sheriff's Department is currently unable to provide funding to have its own officers on elementary campuses due to budget constraints, and that the district is unable to pay for police officers at those schools for the same reason. (He estimated the cost of doing so at $3-4 million, which Board Chair Julie Aranibar advised does not include additional costs such as transportation.) Instead, administration is seeking a private security firm to provide officers for the schools; the cost is projected at $1.7 million.
Board member Dave Miner disparaged the idea, saying that such a program would be akin to hiring what he called "rent-a-cops." He also said he was concerned about “having people in our schools with guns that don't have the training and bonding" with the local community that law enforcement officers have.
But District Investigator Troy Pumphrey, speaking before the dais, replied that many officers from such security firms are retired police and military, and that the Sheriff's Office was "on board" with helping to train such officers for the purpose of campus security. "Through this whole process, I've consulted with [Sheriff] Steube and the Bradenton Police Department," he said, adding that the Sheriff made it clear to him on Wednesday that they would eventually like to provide SROs for the district's elementary schools. Pumphrey also said that all security officer hires would go through a certification process.
In expressing his disagreement with Miner's comment about "rent-a-cops," Hall said, "I feel it's unfair to diminish the credibility (of such officers)," adding that said security officers have already been used throughout the district when safety concerns arose, and that all hires would go through a rigorous vetting process.
When asked by Aranibar about how outsourced officers would be monitored within the district, Deputy Superintendent Diana Greene advised that the administration would “make sure we collaborate with laws and have sign-in sheets ... so if (for example) a student is arrested, the officer signs what they have done based on what they’re required to do.”
Speaking during a meeting recess, staff attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum said that the security officer program would likely not be implemented until around October, as a Request For Proposal, a bidding process, interviews with different companies, and final board approval still have to be done.