NewsRegion C Palm Beach County


State to issue funds for schools to 'harden' campuses; Districts say it won't be enough

Posted at 11:15 AM, May 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-08 09:38:02-04

When students return to school later this year, not every school will be fenced in and not every school will have a single point of entry.

That is the priority for school districts, but the reality is, safety costs.

There is $99 million in state dollars allotted to make schools safer, but school districts have to apply for it.


Palm Beach County's approach to protecting students
Steps St. Lucie County is taking to secure its schools
How Indian River County is protecting students
Martin County's plan to securing its schools 

When the state Legislature passed the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act" after the Parkland tragedy, the governor signed the bill and issued a letter explaining how and where state dollars are going.

There is $97.5 million going to fund school resource officers at every school. The Parkland tragedy told us officer presence at schools is not negotiable.

“In one night, our school resource program went from 11 deputies and one sergeant to a lieutenant, two sergeants and 25 deputies,” Indian River County Sheriff’s Office Major Eric Flowers.

Sheriff’s departments across WPTV's five-county coverage area have to foot the bill to fill the gap, put a gun and badge at every elementary school.

“Since Parkland, the very next day you can imagine. Schools were out assessing,” said Laurie Gaylord, Martin County Schools Superintendent.

Here is a breakdown of what it would look like if school districts split $97.5 million evenly:

There are 67 districts in Florida and each would get $1.4 million. The average cost for an officer's salary and benefits is $100,000 per officer. That could pay for 14 additional officers.

That number is nowhere near enough to cover all elementary schools in all districts and that does not cover outfitting those officers with a car, gear, uniform and weapons. 

* Take Palm Beach County’s School District for example; it is adding 75 additional officers and getting about $5.7 million more to cover those hires.

“That will cover salary and benefits of those new officers, where the local funds we’re going to have to find a way to equip the officers, provide them uniforms, body armor, ammunition, guns and a vehicle is the big cost. So, we may not be able to provide a vehicle for every officer,” said Mike Burke, the chief financial officer of the Palm Beach County School District.

* Martin County’s School District needs to hire 12 officers and Indian River County needs 14 additional officers to meet state requirements and have an officer at every school. Both districts are getting half a million dollars for the new hires.

* St. Lucie County is getting 1.1 million dollars more and needs about 17 additional officers.

“The reality is they’re touting that they gave $101 per student increase over last year. When you take away the mandates, it amounts to 47 cents per student,” said Debbie Hawley, the vice chair of the St. Lucie County School Board.

Districts are going to have to work with their local sheriff’s and police departments to cover the rest of the costs to add those officers. Schools also have until Aug. 1 to apply for grants to fortify their schools.

The Palm Beach County School District is currently assessing its schools. The top priority right now is to make every school have just one point of entry.

 “We have about 39 million, close to $40 million from the sale tax referendum, that’s going to really be the bulk of the work,” said Wanda Paul, the chief operating officer for the Palm Beach County School District.

The St. Lucie County’s School District has changed its schools over the years to single point of entry and is working on three final schools this summer. Schools have a key-card technology to access the building along with a camera-surveillance system.

“In the last six years, we’ve put pretty close to $6 million worth of security enhancements in,” said Hawley.

The state is allotting $99 million to school districts to fortify their schools. The money will be distributed through a grant process. If the money were to be distributed evenly, that means 67 districts would receive a little over $1.4 million to make upgrades to their schools. 

 “It’s a huge challenge and disappointment. I mean, I think it’s a good first step,” said Palm Beach County School Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy.

* The Indian River County School District spent $200,000 to create a single point of entry at Glendale Elementary School in Vero Beach, including fencing around the school. The district is currently assessing its schools to apply for the state grant money. 

More school districts are looking into a camera doorbell system at the single points of entry. Superintendent Gaylord hopes legislators will revisit funds for next year and really look at what it is going to take to make schools safer. Districts would like to see more funds directed at school resource officers and mental health programs.

The state is allotting $69 million for mental health care programs, districts say mental health care is extremely underfunded and the money allotted is not enough to place a professional at every school.

“I’m hoping that that the state Legislature will come back this session and be able to address some of those things as superintendents, school districts and we look at this and say, 'This is not going to be enough' and 'What’s going to be the expectation?'” said Gaylord.

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