PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla.--Putting officers at every school starting this August is not only a top priority right now, it's a mandate from the state. The Palm Beach County School District has 108 positions to fill and 7 weeks to do it.
Many officers at elementary schools this fall will be contracted from municipalities. Still, that leaves the district with a lot of hires to make before the start of the school year.
There's no doubt there is high interest in working as a school police officer for the Palm Beach County School District. Since February, the district says 414 applications were reviewed. Nearly 300 of them were screened out because they were under investigation or had discipline issues with previous departments or had expired or nonexistent law enforcement certificates.
A total of 87 candidates have been interviewed and 36 of those are going into the background check phase. The district said it has 33 more interviews to conduct in the next two weeks.
"As you know this data is fluid and it changes," Palm Beach County School Board member Marcia Andrews said at a security workshop Wednesday. "They may be looking at several other agencies, so you may think you have so many people in the pipeline and it may end up at the end that you don’t have as many."
29 officers in total are being contracted from other municipalities, 33 more are tentative.
"The union is totally against that because what you're doing is you're putting a Band-Aid on the problem," said John Kazanjian, president of the Police Benevolent Association in Palm Beach County.
The district said it had to ask municipalities to help, especially because it has very little time until school starts in August. The former police chief for Jupiter, Frank Kitzerow, starts as the new School District Police Chief on July 2.
"Every municipality in our county said I want to pitch in and help," said Wanda Paul, Chief Operating Officer for the Palm Beach County School District.
The district is asking candidates to have two or more years of experience as a law enforcement officer at another agency and a law enforcement certificate. Kazanjian believes the job attracts retirees and is not very competitive for younger officers looking to make more money at other agencies.
"Our School Board police work 1,600 hours a year. Over at the Sheriff's office we work 2,050 hours so that's a 400 hour difference. The thing is, over at the Sheriff's Office you will earn anywhere from 5-8 weeks vacation, never mind 12 days sick time and comp time added into all that," said Kazanjian. "You have to look at the big picture."
The school district disputes that its officers are the lowest paid when based on an hourly rate.
The district has said recently it is struggling with funds for police cars and equipment for the officers and aims to put a proposed property tax hike on the ballot to get the money.