PALMETTO -- The Palmetto Police Department is providing a school resource officer to Palmetto Elementary School for the 2014-15 year, free of charge, according to officials.
The announcement comes even though the Manatee County School Board has approved plans to put private, armed security officers into each district elementary school.
The officers are set to start in district elementary schools Wednesday. While the district process was unfolding, the police department was working on its own plans, Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells said Monday.
"We had already started to have that discussion," Wells said.
The department was waiting for positions to fill out and become available while the district began to have the discussion about the security officers. Wells said he believes providing an SRO is a better option.
Wells said he had hoped his department would get a portion of the money the district allocated for a security
officer at Palmetto Elementary. But Monday, he said that didn't look like it would be the case. The department will shoulder the whole cost this year, he said.
Anna Maria Elementary will also keep a dedicated SRO provided by the Holmes Beach Police Department.
The Holmes Beach Police Department has provided the school with a dedicated officer the past 15 years free of charge. In July, Chief William Tokajer approached the Manatee County School Board and asked if it would pay about half the cost of the SRO for the 2014-15 school year.
Tokajer asked the board for $52,000 for the year. On Monday, Tokajer said the district is providing the department with about $25,000 for this year to help cover the cost.
"Everything helps," he said.
Tokajer's request in July prompted a more in-depth security discussion at the school board. Less than a week after Tokajer's request, the district announced a plan to hire a private security company to provide armed officers in each elementary school. The district proposal was approved with a split vote at a meeting Sept. 9 after a contentious board discussion over whether the $1 million per-year, three-year contract was the best expenditure of district money and whether the request for proposal process was rushed and flawed.
In Palmetto, plans were already in the works this summer to potentially provide an officer in Palmetto Elementary School, Wells said. The Palmetto Police Department provides SRO officers to Palmetto High School and Lincoln Middle School, and shares the cost of those officers with the district. For the 2014-15 year, the officer at Palmetto Elementary will be covered by the police department.
"We wanted to do this regardless," Wells said.
Officer Doug Marston has been at Palmetto Elementary since the first day of school, when the district had asked local departments to help provide security for the first few days, Wells said. Marston will continue at the school throughout the year.
With an officer now at the elementary school, Wells said the department will be able to create and continue to build relationships with the youth in Palmetto.
"Palmetto PD will be a constant figure in their lives," Wells said.
Armed security officers from Sarasota Security Patrol are set to start in district schools Wednesday, after the board approved a contract Tuesday. The contract has come under intense scrutiny, as opponents say the process was rushed, allowed little time for public comment and supported favoritism as the winning company listed the school district as a reference.
The district hired the company to provide 32 officers, including one for Palmetto Elementary School. No final decision has been made on where the final officer will be placed with Palmetto Elementary covered by the police department, school district spokesman Steve Valley said.
Proponents of the contract said security is lacking in elementary schools, the process followed all the correct protocols and providing security officers is in line with community wishes, citing a survey taken last year where respondents ranked safety and security as high priorities. The survey did not specifically ask about providing armed officers.
"Ultimately, the purpose of this plan is to increase the safety and security for our students and staff at all of our elementary school campuses and to provide an increased level of protection," Superintendent Rick Mills wrote in an op-ed Sunday in the Bradenton Herald.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.