The Manatee County School District will need to spend an additional $1.8 million to ensure that every school has either a law enforcement officer or a school resource officer next school year, Superintendent Diana Greene said Monday.
The county previously approved nearly $598,000 to ensure every elementary and middle school would have a law enforcement officer to guard its halls, and that each high school would have two officers for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year. The focus is now on funding for next year's officers.
Speaking at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Rosedale Golf and Country Club, Greene said the Florida Department of Education has since allocated another $2.4 million to the county, bringing the state's recent contributions to about $3.4 million. Still, Greene said, the district will need an additional $1.8 million to fully fund the officers during the 2018-19 school year.
Unlike law enforcement officers who may rotate between schools, an SRO is usually dedicated to one campus.
An audience member asked whether Greene was confident in the officers' ability to respond to an active-shooter situation. He pointed to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman killed 17 people as a campus deputy remained outside.
"I have the utmost confidence," Greene said. "One, they do their training inside one of our high schools every summer on active shooter."
She said the district is also working to install buzzer systems at the entrance of county schools, and to upgrade the schools' security cameras. Every high school should be equipped with a new camera by the end of the school year.
"These new security cameras will see a penny that is 300 yards away, and you see it as if it's just sitting right there in front of you," Greene said.
What follows tax increase?
The superintendent also updated residents on where their money will go after the March 20 passage of a one-mill increase in property taxes, and how other funds are being used after an extension of the half-cent infrastructure sales tax went into effect on Jan 1, 2017.
The increased property tax is meant to help Manatee County compete with salaries in neighboring school systems. The starting salary in Manatee County is about $39,000, compared to approximately $42,000 in Sarasota, Greene said.
Greene said she will present the new salary amounts to the school board on Tuesday.
Teachers will receive 51 percent of the estimated $33 million a year that is expected to come from the one mill, officials previously said. The remaining funds will be distributed among bus drivers, paraprofessionals, district charter schools, STEM/CTAE staff and others.
"We were losing paraprofessionals to jobs such as Target and Starbucks," Greene said.
As for the infrastructure sales tax, Greene said millions of dollars will go toward opening new schools and renovating several others. The projects include:
- Combining Frances Wakeland Elementary and Louise R. Johnson Middle — August 2018.
- Opening North River High School — August 2019.
- Opening Dr. Mona Jain Middle School — August 2019.
- Building a new wing at Gullet Elementary — August 2019.
- Opening North County Elementary — August 2019.
- Renovating Gene Witt Elementary — August 2019.
- Adding new wings at Williams and Willis elementary schools — fall 2019.
As part of its "path to prosperity," the district is also moving forward with several projects in hopes of retaining employees, improving their classrooms and providing a better education for students.
"Our secondary science labs haven't been updated since the 1980s," Greene said. "We still have Bunsen burners in a number of our high school labs."
Other planned projects include:
- Enhancing career, technical and agriculture education programs at secondary schools — $1.5 million.
- Adding teachers and resources to the science, technology, engineering and math field — $1.7 million
- Updating secondary science labs — $2.2 million.
- Various improvements to after-school programs — $372,000.