Education

Several questions remain about Manatee's school guardians program. Here's what we do know.

Here’s some of the security measures being implemented in Manatee County schools

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.
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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.

As the School District of Manatee County moves to hire guardians to protect the district's more than 48,000 students, it remains unclear how the cost differs from past plans, or what exactly the needed insurance policy will entail.

The district will employ about 30 guardians, who are trained security officers without law enforcement authority, said Deputy Superintendent Ron Ciranna. He presented his plan to the school board at its workshop on Tuesday, less than a week after 10 people were killed during a school shooting in Texas.

Ciranna said each guardian will undergo 144 hours of firearms training, along with a background check and a psychological evaluation.

According to a draft of the job descriptions, guardians will need a high school diploma or an equivalent, and training in the security industry is preferred. The supervisor may need 10 years of "successful experience" in either law enforcement, military or private security management, along with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

After the high school massacre in Parkland on Feb. 14, the school board agreed that active law enforcement officers would best serve the district. However, after the county decided against sharing the costs of added security, the district set its sights on school guardians.

"In fairness to our police chiefs and sheriff, they are in agreement that they are the best ones to provide this, but I want to reassure the public that the Guardian Program is under the training of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office," said Scott Hopes, the board chair.

Hopes questioned the cost difference between hiring guardians rather than law enforcement officers. Along with the $1.38 million for guardians, the district expects to pay nearly $2.1 million for deputies and police officers, bringing the total to about $3.45 million.

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Superintendent Diana Greene listens as Deputy Superintendent Ron Ciranna, speaking during a presentation on Tuesday afternoon, said the district plans to start recruiting within two weeks. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The estimate follows an agreement between the district and county, which will share the cost of existing sheriff's deputies 50/50, and the assumption that Bradenton, Holmes Beach and Palmetto police departments will agree to share 30 percent of the cost for their officers.

According to Ciranna's presentation, the district still faces a $1.2 million deficit. It faced a deficit of about $1.4 million when the plan was to staff schools with more sheriff's deputies, but that estimate was made before the county declined to share new security costs.

Hopes asked for a breakdown of current and past costs. After the meeting, Ciranna told a reporter that many factors played into the estimates, and the amount of savings was not immediately available. He said the breakdown would be provided when available.

Board member John Colon, speaking during the workshop, asked whether the district would be liable for guardian-related incidents. The answer is "yes," according to Ciranna, who said the district would need an insurance policy.

The guardians, Colon added, should also have holsters that latch shut.

"They're going to be around school children in close proximity," he said.

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The School District of Manatee County expects to hire about 30 safety guardians -- armed security officers who are trained by the sheriff's office -- at a cost of approximately $1.38 million. Scott Hopes joins the discussion. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Gov. Rick Scott created the Guardian Program when he signed Senate Bill 7026, otherwise known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Districts throughout the state are starting to consider the program as officials struggle to pay for the state-mandated security in all elementary, middle and high schools.

Recruitment will begin in the next two weeks, according to Ciranna's presentation, and the district is expected to hire guardians in early June. Training will take place before the 2018-2019 school year.

Ciranna said potential guardians are faced with stringent training requirements. Citing conversations with the sheriff's office, he said between 20 to 60 percent of applications are expected to fail either the tactical training or psychological exam.

"This really will ensure the safety and security and welfare of our students, faculty and visitors at all of our schools," he said.

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