Bradenton officials unanimously agree that city police officers, not so-called "guardians," should provide security at the five schools within city limits, but how to pay for those additional officers has been a point of contention.
On Wednesday, the city council said it would be willing to pay 20 percent of the cost, because of estimates that school resource officers spend about 80 percent of their time working on campuses. Last month, schools Deputy Superintendent Ron Ciranna had offered a 70-30 split.
Under the city's proposal, it would pay an additional $49,000 a year on top of the $172,000 it already pays. The school district's earlier proposal would have cost the district an additional $162,000.
Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan will need to hire an additional seven full time school resource officers, two part- time officers and two supervisors in order to help the school district comply with a new state mandate that at least one officer be in every school after the Feb. 14 massacre at a high school in Parkland.
Ciranna indicated last month that the district would likely accept an 80-20 percent split, but he did not immediately return a call for comment on Wednesday.
Though the state mandate was directed toward school districts, Manatee County School District claims the added costs, should they go it alone, would create a budget hardship despite recent voter approvals to maintain a half-cent sales tax and to increase the property tax rate by 1 mill.
"The state put the mandate on the schools, not the cities," said Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff. "Let's be clear, the school board is a taxing agency. They have the ability to raise millage if it's not in their current budget."
Roff said he understands the burden the state has placed on the school district, "But I don't want to do their jobs for them. ... The school board came to us and said, 'Hey, can you bail us out?' Our job is to oversee our budget and your job is to oversee your budget."
Roff did support the 80-20 split, as did the rest of the council. Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo pushed his colleagues into taking a vote one way or the other.
"Time is running out on us," Gallo said. "This is for one year and then we can see what the state does in trying to help these schools after their knee-jerk reaction. But the school board and the kids are part of this community and we are talking about a measly amount of money just to protect them with more SROs."
Ward 2 Councilman Gene Brown was critical in the way the district has handled its communications with the city.
"We're behind the 8-ball now and that's not something we've done," he said. "The school board talked to the county a long time ago and did not talk to us, but just two weeks ago. It's disappointing that the school administration has not been more involved with us."
All of the law enforcement agencies prefer police officers to provide security at schools. Bevan went as far as saying, "I have made it clear that I will not have an officer working alongside a guardian."
Armed guardians are defined as security guards without law enforcement authority.
Holmes Beach has already agreed to the district's 70-30 split, but with only one officer at Anna Maria Island Elementary School, the new arrangement will save the city money. Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler said the city would also save money with a 70-30 split given the few officers needed.
Palmetto is expected to take a vote in the near future.
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells also wants trained deputies as school resource officers, but it has been more difficult to reach an agreement. The Manatee County Commission last month rejected a school district proposal that would have cost the county an additional $900,000.
Commissioners argued the largest share of the county budget pays for the sheriff's office, which is already protecting the community. Wells is trying to avoid guardians being needed and continues to crunch the numbers.
Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith wanted to emphasize that the approval includes only a one-year contract to determine what, if anything, the state decides on school security funding. The city is offering no money for guardians.
"This unfunded mandate has flowed down to us and is now being forced on a number of taxing agencies," Smith said. "I'd like to see (the school district) step up and I feel like they've stepped aside."