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Palm Beach County Superintendent of Schools talks safety changes for next year

Posted at 2:53 PM, Jun 01, 2018

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla.-- It may be the last day of school for Palm Beach County students, but the administration is already looking to the new school year, and safety changes kids will see when they come back to class.

"February 14th changed everything for us," Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy says.

And that means making a lot of safety and security upgrades fast. The superintendent says: "We've allocated close to $40 million in security upgrades, and what's interesting is some of our schools are older and we have to almost redesign the whole building."

He says some of that work is already underway. But a lot of it will happen this summer, when kids are out of the classroom. "You'll see some single point of entries come up, you'll see new fencing, higher fencing in some cases, some doors they used to be able to get in they won't be able to get in anymore, those kinds of things are happening. A lot of stuff is behind the walls, so doors will change, how people will get in and out of campus will change, in some cases, but remember we can only do the work when the kids aren’t in the building and the weather can get in the way. So the summer will be a lot of projects and then we’ll ramp up again Thanksgiving."

At least three more campuses will modify to one entrance this summer, with all expected that way within a year.

It's not just physical changes on the outside. Staff will undergo training to be more prepared on the inside.

"Our staffs, our principals, our teachers, our school police department will be doing a series of training on all the emergency drills; we're going to spend time this summer making sure everyone is on the same page," Fennoy says.

He adds: "Without our kids feeling safe, they can't learn. So this whole new change in our world is causing all of us to think differently so I want to make sure the community understands that we are doing everything in our power to make it happen."

Another change students will notice when they go back to school in August is more police officers on campus. The district needs to hire another 75 officers to comply with the new Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, which requires at least one officer for every school.

Local police departments will pitch in to fill the void while the Palm Beach County School District Police Department ramps up its hiring and works to fill those positions. So far, more than 400 have applied.

11 city police departments will help patrol up to 47 schools. Fennoy says: "All the local municipalities that have schools in their systems are now in negotiations with us to figure that out, then today we'll also be talking with the sheriff's office." When asked if PBSO would be contributing deputies as well, a spokesperson said, "Don't know. It would depend on how many deputies they would need. I understand we are still waiting to hear from school board officials."  

Fennoy says there is something special about having their own police force. "The big advantage is our officers want to work with kids. That is a big deal. Our officers prevent a lot of crimes because our kids tell them everything, they tell them everything because of that relationship." 

Money from the state will fall about $2 million short to meet the payroll for the new officers, so administrators are now looking at other places to cut from the budget.

One thing that is not on the table: outsourcing completely to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. "Obviously Parkland has changed the dynamic, from what I've seen in my time here as superintendent, it would not be financially; it would cost us more money to go to the sheriff’s department," Fennoy says.

Another change will be the position of police chief. The superintendent is changing it to a higher level cabinet position and doing a nationwide search. The current chief is being considered, and the superintendent expects to bring a candidate to the school board at its June 20 meeting.

He says, "I needed my police chief at the table with us as we make decisions, and so I wanted to make it a competitive process to get the best person."