Pinellas Commissioners won't fund school resource deputies

Largo leaders made similar decision last week

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County Commissioners will not help pay for school resource deputies in your child’s school.

They are the second group of Pinellas County leaders, following the city of Largo, to decide not to invest the money in school resource officers, and instead insist the school district pay for the extra officers. 

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That could have major implications on the Pinellas County School District. Superintendent Michael Grego recently told city leaders in Clearwater that they could be forced to shuffle money away from "hardening" school building security (things like adding gates, locks and metal detectors) in order to pay for the school officers. 

It's disheartening for Yolanda Kearney, a Pinellas County grandma and former teacher. “We’ve gotta do something. We’ve got to change something because too much is happening in our world right now,” she said with a sigh.

Kearney knows the importance of protecting kids. She works as a security officer in childcare centers. That's why the idea of any municipality not chipping in to fund school resource officers, infuriates her.

“Our local leaders need to wake up. It’s not business as usual. You’re not just sitting behind your desk shoving papers, this is crucial. This is our future," Kearney plead.

The Pinellas County School District needs to fund 100 deputies/officers at elementary, high and charter schools by July 1. 

Commissioners in Pinellas County say it should be up to the school district to fund the multi-million dollar expense.

“For one, the school board never directly asked us for the money," Commissioner Charlie Justice explained, "If the school board has funds, has reserves and has the ability to go for a millage rate increase, then they don’t need to come to the county commission for help. We’ll be the last stop, not the first stop.”

Largo city leaders expressed similar feelings last week, which baffled some Pinellas County residents, who say the Parkland shooting should be a wake up call for everyone to work together to make change. 

Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long says she's flustered with the state making rules but not providing the money to fund the mandates, "It's frustrating and to me, it's irresponsible," she explained.

County leaders also worry they will be facing a budget shortfall if a new homestead exemption passes in an upcoming referendum, funneling fewer tax dollars into the county's coffers. 

Yet, without help from both Largo and Pinellas County, the school district is in a desperate dash to find money to hire school resource officers, and it could mean cutting $2.5 million from classrooms.

Kearney is urging local leaders to push through the finger pointing and think about what’s really important. “At the end of the day, you want to be able to go home and hug your kids.”

So what happens if a district can’t meet this mandate and hire school resource officers in time? ABC Action News made more than a dozen calls to find out if they would face any consequences, and found out the law passed by state leaders does not establish any specific penalties or sanctions. However, it is still a state mandate. 

State legislators passed the mandate in response to February’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The law requires that every school in Florida have an armed guard.

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