BY LLOYD DUNKELBERGER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – A new report from Florida’s school superintendents warns that despite a nearly $100 million increase in funding, there may not be enough money to post an armed school resource officer at each school in the state.
In reacting to the shooting deaths of 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, the Legislature passed a new budget and related bills that boosted funding for resource officers by $97.5 million to $162 million in the upcoming academic year.
But a report from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents said school districts might not be able to meet the goal of posting at least one safety officer at each of Florida’s more than 3,500 elementary, middle and high schools.
Lack of funding
The report was part of a State Board of Education agenda for a meeting Tuesday in LaBelle but was not discussed.
“We appreciate the legislative appropriations, but many districts will have difficulty meeting the requirement to establish or assign one (or) more safe-school officers at each school facility,” the report said.
The superintendents also said a lack of funding for law-enforcement officers may put pressure on districts to use the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program,” which would allow school employees, including some teachers, to bring guns to school if they are specially trained and deputized by sheriffs.
But noting the opposition to the guardian program in many districts and communities, the superintendents said much of the $67 million for that initiative may go unspent. They asked the Board of Education for support in shifting some of those funds to the school resource officer program.
“Superintendents request that you support and recommend that these unspent dollars be used in districts for additional school resource officers or other school safety measures,” the report said.
In a recent interview with The News Service of Florida, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said lawmakers may considering using the Joint Legislative Budget Commission to shift some of the guardian funds into other safety measures if the money goes unspent, although it was too early to make that determination.
Concerns about drills
The superintendents also raised concerns about a provision in the new school-safety law that will require “active shooter” and “hostage situations” drills in the schools.
“Superintendents support these drills, but they must be accomplished with minimal disruption to teaching and learning and in a manner that does not unnecessarily frighten students, particularly elementary students,” the report said.
The superintendents said they would work with the Department of Education on other school-safety initiatives, including establishing a state Safe Schools Office, developing a school security-risk assessment tool and implementing the guardian program.
The report also offered some recommendations on implementing a new $69 million mental-health services program, which has been a top priority for the school superintendents for some time.
But the report warned that some school districts could face budget cuts in the coming year because the bulk of increased spending in the new education budget is targeted toward the school safety and mental health issues in the wake of the Broward County shooting.
The superintendents noted that the “base student allocation,” the primary source for general operational activities, only increased by 47 cents per student statewide, a fraction of the overall funding increase of $101.50 per student.
“With only a 47-cent increase in the BSA, superintendents will be forced to cut their budgets – cuts that will impact students, schools and communities that are served,” the report said.