PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday approved several important items to strengthen security efforts in local schools.
Board members unanimously approved a new panic alarm system, upgrading surveillance cameras, and a pay raise for school district police officers.
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Superintendent Mike Burke told WPTV that plans for a panic button system were in the works for the School District of Palm Beach County since before the tragic mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.
The CENTEGIX CrisisAlert system was unanimously approved by school board members on Wednesday.
Every school-based staff member will eventually have a badge with a button they can push if there's an emergency. That will immediately alert school police and administration where the alarm is going off.
WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind spoke exclusively to school district Police Chief Sarah Mooney about the system, which is already in use in the Martin County School District.
Mooney said she visited security leaders there to learn about how CrisisAlert works and thinks it will make a great addition to the district's safety plans.
"They've already tried something. You can get some real-time feedback from them. You can go and see how it works and if it's really what you think it is," Mooney said. "So I think that's always useful. If you know someone and the product has value for them, it's usually going to have value for us, too."
The School District of Palm Beach County currently uses a cell phone app for its panic alarm system in compliance with Alyssa's Law — which was passed in 2020 and named after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff — but this would take things one step further.
The panic button system will cost a little over $2 million for the first year, according to school district documents. The goal is to have the new system in place by next school year.
"We have an ongoing commitment to safety, and we are constantly looking for opportunities to further fortify our campuses," Burke told WPTV on June 2 while demonstrating the technology.
Calling it an "important investment" in school security, Burke said the panic buttons will be tied into the 911 system so local municipalities can respond to emergencies quickly and appropriately.
"Our officers are trained to not to wait for backup. They're trained to go to the threat immediately," Burke said. "We're gonna do everything we can, everything possible to keep our schools safe. It's got our full attention."
The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday also unanimously approved $1 million in video surveillance upgrades, along with a pay raise for school district police officers.
As the district's police department deals with an officer shortage — much like many other law enforcement agencies around our area — a lack of pay is one reason some officers have left the department.
But the school district is trying to change that. Palm Beach County School District police officers will have a 5% pay raise.
Mooney said this will bring their pay into the top three in the county for starting officer pay.
While the district's police department deals with an officer shortage, it contracts with other local agencies to fill the gaps to make sure there is at least one officer on every school campus, which is required by state law.
Those agency officers and deputies often earn overtime pay, putting a lot more money in their pockets.
The chief hopes the pay raise will help recruitment.
"You are always comparing and you want to try to keep it fair for everybody," Mooney said. "Being a law enforcement officer is very difficult and I think they earn every cent they make. And I’m a proponent of trying to be supportive of what the officers think they need."
The Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association needs to ratify the pay raise agreement.
In addition to the 5% raise, pay will increase for school district police officers working an outside detail.