PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Safety and school security is being addressed this week as Palm Beach County schools prepares for a new school year.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, school board members approved a proposal to set aside $4 million to help any charter schools that have yet to establish a security officer on campus, as required by new state law.
It’s all part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Public Safety Act passed last year and new guidelines are now going into effect.
State law requires school districts to provide all public schools with full-time trained and armed security officers, which includes public charter schools. The mandates are outlines in SB 7030, which was not signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis until two months ago.
“Due to the fact that SB 7030 was not signed by Governor DeSantis until May 8, 2019, and requires action by the first day school, August 12, 2019, it has become apparent that some charter schools in Palm Beach County may not be capable of full compliance by this deadline without assistance from the School District of Palm Beach County,” reads a statement from the school board’s agenda.
Charter schools across the state have been scrambling to find security that meets those requirements and for some schools, it can be tricky.
Principal Susan Onori of Imagine Chancellor charter school in Boynton Beach is getting things squared away for the new school year.
“We have 1,045 students this year,” she said.
That includes security on campus as required by state law.
“Because they want everyone to be safe, even the word charter school, there still kids. We’re still a public school and everyone needs to be protected,” she said.
Charter schools now have four options in finding security that meets the requirement of the new law:
- a municipal police department officer
- a school district police department officer
- an approved private security company
- a trained guardian through PBSO’s new guardian program
“Last year we had a full-time guard, armed, from Kent Security. Officer Holland is fantastic,” she said. “Now with the new guardian program and legislation that came down, he has to get guardian trained.”
PBSO announced recently that they will take part in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian training program for teachers, staff and private security. This is one of the more affordable alternatives for charters than hiring a police officer within a municipality or the school district’s own police force.
In the interim, Onori’s school will have to pay a Boynton Beach officer while her regular security guard finishes up his training.
“For even the six weeks that I’m going to have him, it’s going be between $10,000 and $12,000,” Onori said of the Boynton Beach Officer.
Other charters schools in the county said it can cost about $70,000 per school year to use a local city police officer, depending on where they are located.
If a charter uses school district police, it’s $154,000 a year, which roughly totals about two teacher salaries. The numbers were outlined in a meeting Tuesday night at John I. Leonard High School with charter schools, sheriff’s office deputies, private security companies and various police departments.
“We’ve been able to pick our option that works best for us in our community so I’m very grateful that we can afford that, however, these small mom and pops are going to have a more difficult time choosing their options because it is very cost prohibitive,” said Onori.
That’s why the Palm Beach County school board will decide whether to allocate $4 million of emergency dollars for any charter school that needs help in having a full-time armed security person when classes start in the fall. This applies to the 2019-2020 school year. Charter schools will also be given additional time to find the best option for their facilities and financial conditions.
“The fact that they are reaching out to the charter schools, I think is a very positive position," Onori said. “So I think it’s great that they’re reaching out and working with the charter school community this year.”
The state has set aside money for the safe school initiative. In this upcoming school year, the Palm Beach County school district will get $11.6 million in state safe school money.
Palm Beach County charter schools, totaling 52, will get $1.27 million of that.
However, there is some contention over this week’s requirement for the district to assist charter schools.
The Classroom Teachers Association, the local teachers union, said they are hopeful that this won’t impact the district’s finances.
“I just think it’s a shame that the legislature underfunds everything and then some charters and state officials demand the school district foot the bill,” said CTA president Justin Katz.
The school district is not allowed to share referendum money with charter schools so the money for this issue would have to come from their general fund.
“Basically, use unencumbered funds, which are mostly funds that are anticipated to be used for salaries for employees in order to cover the cost,” said Katz.
There are measures placed into the proposal that calls for possible reimbursement opportunities so that the school district can recoup funds from charter schools.
“The district in putting this item together tonight is showing their willingness and good faith to make sure that all students and all schools have the proper security measures in place as dictated by the law that was passed last year,” said Katz. “I hope that the charter schools who are going to benefit from the district providing this will, in fact, reimburse them, which is the right thing to do.”
If a charter school needs help from the district in obtaining a school resource officer or security guard, the district is allowed to retain that charter school’s safe school allocation money for the school year. If that money does not cover the cost of a security person, the district has the right to seek reimbursement.
Many charter schools already have plans in place for security this year, which several telling WPTV that they have had security on campus for years.
It’s unknown exactly which schools have been identified as needing immediate assistance in finding security in time for the start of school.