I am writing to shed light on the concerns and considerations that led to the approval of placing armed security personnel -- to be known as Community Security Officers -- in 32 of our 33 district elementary schools. Anna Maria Elementary is the exception, as they already have an arrangement with the Holmes Beach Police Department to provide a School Resource Officer.
First, I know everyone engaged in this issue shares a core belief that nothing is more important than providing our children with the safest school environment possible. We are all unified on that front.
Where I believe we differ is on how this issue rose to prominence and why there was a sense of urgency to get this issue approved. Contrary to recent reports, the issue of school safety has been at the forefront of school district planning and discussions for close to a year.
In November 2013, the district's Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee held a series of community forums to ask residents to fill out surveys to determine top priorities for our district. More than 940 surveys were received, and safety and security overwhelmingly was identified as one of the top priorities.
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From November 2013 to June 24, 2014, when the strategic plan was approved, safety and security was a constant and primary area of concern. In fact, safety and security became one of seven strategic priorities specifically detailed in the strategic plan.
Because of financial constraints, the district was unable to place an SRO in 33 elementary schools -- because the cost for that coverage was listed at more than $3.4 million.
However, with the success of the district's fiscal recovery plan and the revelation there would be a financial surplus, thoughts turned to ways to meet some of the district's most critical needs. Safety and security quickly rose to forefront.
At a special board meeting on July 24, Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer asked the board for help in funding the SRO at Anna Maria Elementary. Board members discussed that issue along with security options for other elementary schools. Board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner stated at that meeting: "The No. 1 priority has always been the safety and security of our children, and so I think if we find money for anything, we find it for the safety of our children."
On July 31, district staff introduced a proposal for consideration to provide contracted security personnel for all elementary schools at a cost of $1 million per year. Three of the five board members expressed an extremely favorable view of the proposal. Board member Barbara Harvey and Board Chair Julie Aranibar stated they would like to have the security personnel in place for the start of the new school year.
A Request for Proposal process was initiated and followed. The RFP was posted on the school district website on Aug. 4, the day it went out to 796 vendors -- not on Aug. 26, as has been reported. A selection committee of five reviewed the 12 submitted proposals and selected the winning firm.
Far from being a rush, the district deliberately adhered to the dictates of the school board, delaying the deployment of the Community Security Officers until the board gave its official approval on Sept. 9, with board members Miner and Bob Gause opposing.
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.
As we proceed with this program, we will provide detailed information to the school board, our schools and the public on the program's progress and implementation and how our students and staff will benefit.
I thank you for your support for this initiative and for your unquestioned devotion to the safety of our students and staff.
Together We Can,
Rick W. Mills