BRADENTON -- Guards from Sarasota Security Patrol are working their last day in Manatee County elementary schools Friday, after the Manatee County School District superintendent gave 30 days notice that the contract was being canceled.
At the end of school Thursday at Ballard Elementary School, Miguel Torres took up his usual post, helping facilitate dismissal for students being picked up by their parents. In addition to directing traffic to make sure cars moved along, Torres helped children in and out of vehicles.
Torres said he'll miss working with the children.
"I feel saddened that I'm leaving," Torres said. "I feel like I could have made a difference."
Come Monday, 31 of the district's 33 elementary schools will no longer use officers stationed permanently in the schools for an additional layer of security, and it's unclear if or when the Man
atee County School Board will take up the issue again.
Anna Maria and Palmetto elementary schools will continue to have school resource officers. The district is supplementing a Holmes Beach police officer at Anna Maria Elementary, and the Palmetto Police Department is providing an officer free of charge to the district this year. Bradenton police officers having been checking in at least once a day at the seven elementary schools within city limits.
The rest of the elementary schools, which have been covered since Sept. 17 by private officers from Sarasota Security Patrol, will return to having no security officer present.
The district canceled the contract after a nonprofit group filed a lawsuit saying the district violated the Sunshine Law when an evaluation committee met to review the requests for proposal before recommending the contract be awarded to Sarasota Security Patrol.
Board members settled the lawsuit for $10,000. The district is now posting public notices of meetings on a bulletin board in the main school district office and on a special section of the school district website.
Since the contract was canceled, there has been little action or discussion from the board and the district as to how to move forward with security in the elementary schools. The district is expected to name a director of safety and security -- who would be charged with overseeing security at all levels -- at an upcoming meeting. A committee of district officials interviewed seven candidates for the job Oct. 10.
Shirley Myers, who was picking up her two grandchildren after school Thursday at Ballard, said she wasn't happy Torres would no longer be in the school.
"You can feel his presence," she said. "I liked that he was there."
Vetra Raysor, also picking up her grandchildren at Ballard, said she wanted to find a way for Torres to come back. She added the after-school dismissal was hectic without Torres there.
"He's been there to guide us," she said.
Bringing the guards into the school district has been a contentious issue in the community and on the school board since the proposal was announced July 31. Major issues concerning the plan revolve around what some board members and parents called a rushed and flawed process. The district was then forced to ask the State Attorney General's Office whether having private, armed guards on public school campuses is legal. The guards have been in the schools with no guns. The attorney general's office still has not issued an opinion. Two officials and more than one officer with Sarasota Security Patrol have criminal histories.
The school board had approved the guards in a split vote Sept. 9, with Julie Aranibar, Karen Carpenter and Barbara Harvey voting yes on the contract, and Bob Gause and Dave "Watchdog" Miner voting no.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-708.1 Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.