School guardians are slated to enter more than a dozen schools in Manatee County by late August.
About 40 potential guardians — armed security officers without law enforcement authority — will soon undergo a psychological evaluation, said Sheriff Rick Wells, adding that most of the candidates have prior law enforcement or military experience.
The district interviewed and drug tested about 100 applicants. School officials hope to employ the first group of guardians by late August, shortly after the start of a new school year, and to install every guardian by the end of September. The sheriff will temporarily provide off-duty deputies during the transition.
Ron Ciranna, deputy superintendent of business and operations, presented the update at a recent school board meeting.
"We are very, very impressed with the caliber of candidates that we interviewed," he said.
Candidates have also undergone a background check, Wells said, and 144 hours of training will follow the psychological evaluations. An initial class of 20 candidates will take on firearms drills, active shooter instruction and diversity training.
Wells said the first round of training is scheduled to start on July 23.
"I think that we were all very pleased with the candidates that applied for this, and we're hopeful we can get them properly trained and get them into the schools in a reasonable amount of time," he said.
The 10-month position pays between $20.50 to $33.07 per hour. Guardians are expected to protect schools, keep detailed records and communicate with district officials or local law enforcement officers.
They are expected to patrol entire campuses, including school restrooms, hallways and parking lots. Guardians should detect suspicious activity or "inappropriate social behavior," according to the district's job description.
And most importantly, a guardian should "use whatever force is necessary to prevent or abate an active assailant incident," the description states.
Interested candidates were required to be at least 25 years old and to have a high school diploma. While there were few requirements to submit an application, the district specified that guardians should have the ability to:
- Work with a wide variety of students from diverse backgrounds.
- Exercise good judgment under potentially dangerous situations.
- Control sudden violent or extreme physical acts of others.
- Exhibit rapid mental and muscular coordination simultaneously.
Lead guardians will supervise the other guardian officers, and the district will also hire a director of safety and security to oversee the entire program.
After the Feb. 14 massacre at a high school in Parkland, officials in Manatee decided that certified law enforcement officers should protect district schools, but state mandates and financial concerns opened the door for guardians.
A new law requires all elementary, middle and high schools to be secured. Through partnerships with the sheriff's office and the Bradenton, Palmetto and Holmes Beach police departments, Manatee already had security in most of its schools.
The new law forced district officials to also implement security at every elementary school by the 2018-2019 school year.
County commissioners decided to continue sharing half the cost of existing deputies, but it refused to help pay for additional security. Holmes Beach supplies one officer and Palmetto supplies three — both agreed to a 70-30 share of the cost, with the district incurring most of the cost, Ciranna said on Tuesday. He said Bradenton was still deliberating.
As with several districts across the state, Manatee shifted focus to guardians after the financial burden became too great.
The program may be a short-term solution. Scott Hopes, the school board chair, spoke with Sheriff Wells about cutting unnecessary costs and eventually replacing the guardians with deputies.