School board unanimously approves funding for 35 more officers at county schools

Manatee School Board Chairman Scott Hopes.
Manatee School Board Chairman Scott Hopes. Herald file photo

The School Board of Manatee County unanimously approved more than $500,000 to pay for 35 additional law enforcement officers to be stationed at its schools starting Monday morning.

The additional resources, the board says, will place at least one school resource officer in every elementary and middle school in the county, while two will be in each high school.

The board approved $597,800 out of the district’s current fund to pay for the officers in order to get them into the schools quickly. The news SROs will be a mixture of Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Bradenton and Palmetto police departments.

The swift agreement came about after a series of school threats plagued several Manatee County schools over the last couple of weeks, forcing multiple lockdowns. The copycat threats followed the deadly Valentine’s Day shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where 17 people were killed and dozens more injured.

“The people of Manatee should be very proud of the school district and the local law enforcement,” School Board Chairman Scott Hopes said. “The county faced adversity in the course of the last 10 days that we have not seen in the past, and we rallied. I’m so very proud of the work we have done. Sheriff Rick Wells brought the entire law enforcement community together, and we all got this done.”

The increased law enforcement presence will be in effect for the remainder of the school year.

When it comes to the 2018-19 school year, and how the district will secure future funding to keep the officers at each school, Hopes said that will largely involve the state.

According to Hopes, the increased security measure may cost upwards of $5 million next year in additional costs, and the district is hopeful the legislature will provide that funding.

“But we have the funds that we can use for purposes like this, in times of emergency,” Hopes said, “and the board has taken the position that we cannot wait and that there needs to be armed law enforcement officers in all of our schools beginning Monday morning, and that’s what this funding does.”

Hopes says he is traveling to Tallahassee on Wednesday and will try to get some or all of the money reimbursed but held that it was the best decision to get the ball rolling now and to keep students safe sooner rather than later.

School officials also said that there are plans for more security measures to be implemented. While all measures, suggestions and ideas aren’t ironed out yet, they said, there are talks of more secure gates and locks, along with a one-way out, one-way in system to help make schools more secure.

“The district is looking at every possible way to secure the campuses,” said school district spokesman Mike Barber.

When it comes to mental health and psychological resources, superintendent Diana Greene said that currently, the district has a training program.

“The school psychologists and social workers deliver that training to all the guidance counselors,” Greene said at the meeting.

She also touched on the School of Academic and Behavioral Learning Excellence (Sable), a county K-8 school for students experiencing mental or behavioral health issues and said a certified psychiatrist is on staff who works with those students and their families.

The superintendent did not reveal further plans to address student mental health, but did say the district may hold workshops on upcoming ideas and practices involving student safety.

Chairman of the School Board of Manatee County Dr. Scott Hopes said Friday after a board meeting on security concerns that additional school resource officers will be placed in every county school.

Samantha Putterman: 941-745-7027, @samputterman