PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Adding armed officers to every school in Florida: it's part of a $400 million school safety bill being debated Tuesday among Florida House members in Tallahassee. But is it feasible?
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has his doubts. Currently, 80 schools in Pinellas County don’t have school resource officers and adding them would "be a tall order" he says, even with $97 million being divided across the state to hire more S.R.O.s.
The state’s latest plan would pour $97 million into adding armed school resource officers across Florida, but each S.R.O. costs around $100,000, with salary and benefits. With nearly 4,000 schools across Florida, that’s $400 million,
Gualtieri worries what cities and law enforcement agencies will have to cut in order to make the plan work.
Clearwater mom Jennifer Molina is sickened that cost is even a factor in increasing school safety.
“I think that’s the sorriest excuse anybody could use," she said.
She’s already dreading the day 3-year-old A.J. starts school.
“I never thought in a million years when I had a child I would be afraid to put them in kindergarten, and I am truly afraid," Molina elaborated.
Grandma Linda Simmons dreads that day too. That’s why she says change needs to happen now.
“It’s absolutely time. Enough is enough," Simmons said.
Parents like Lea Briggs argue safety is priceless. “It’s our kids! You can’t really put a price on safety," she said while kissing her son on the cheek.
Part of the problem, Gualtieri says, is that the Legislature has set aside $67 million for its program to arm school staff, like coaches and librarians. In another separate pot of money, is the $97 million for armed school resource officers.
Gualtieri thinks the money should be flexible so districts like Pinellas, who he says do not support armed school staff, can use the money for more S.R.O.s instead.
Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton said the funds are purposely being kept separate saying, "one of the biggest challenges we've had with Safe School funding since I've been in the Senate is that dollars allocated for safe schools have ended up other places, so we were very specific in the bill to show where we were prioritizing our dollars."