Manatee’s 13 charter schools are rushing to meet the state’s new security and health requirements by the time classes begin in August.
Of the nine schools that responded to an inquiry by the Bradenton Herald, only four had a finalized plan. Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 7026 into law on March 9, shortly after the high school massacre in Parkland, and it requires every school to utilize law enforcement officers or armed “guardians.”
The new law also touches on wellness, requiring schools to partner with local providers on mental health or substance abuse issues, and to work on intervention and public awareness.
Much like the district’s traditional schools, most charters are leaning toward guardian officers for the 2018-2019 school year. Guardians are armed security officers who have no law enforcement authority, and each receives 144 hours of training from his or her local sheriff’s office.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Bradenton Herald
Private schools are not affected by the mandate, according to an email from Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters.
Richard Ramsay is the principal at Manatee School of Arts and Sciences. Unlike the other administrators who responded, Ramsay was adamant that a sheriff’s deputy would guard his school.
He estimates the school will spend about $50,000 regardless of whether it utilizes a deputy or a guardian, and he wants the benefit of having someone with law enforcement authority.
Even if a cost difference exists, Ramsay said a certified law enforcement officer would give him more confidence than a guardian. However, if given the option, his school would forgo the added security.
The state burdened schools by requiring more security and failing to pay for the added responsibility, Ramsay said, adding that undue mandates can actually harm students.
“If I wanted to lower class sizes by hiring another teacher, I can’t do that because now I’ve got to pay for that (officer),” he said.
Schools are more likely to benefit from mental health and social services, Ramsay said. However, lawmakers also failed to completely fund the new wellness requirements. Ramsay’s school will receive about $8,400 for security, and $3,500 for its new health plan.
“I think both of these, the legislature put it out there as a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “They didn’t put a lot of time and effort into planning things out, looking at the different accountability aspects or the funding aspects of it.”
Manatee’s 13 charter schools will receive more than $391,000 of Manatee’s $2.64 million safety allocation from the state, district spokesman Mike Barber said in an email. Each school’s share is based on the number of students enrolled.
Other schools see a large disparity between the cost of guardians and the expense of a sheriff’s deputy or police officer. As a small school with limited allocations, Oasis Middle School is leaning toward the guardian option, a spokeswoman said.
Rowlett Middle Academy and Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication are still negotiating with law enforcement and the school district.
“The initial quote that we received from the sheriff’s office for a deputy is well beyond what we can afford in our budget so we are pursuing other options,” Principal Jamara Clark said in an email.
Manatee Charter School is also considering its options. Though the school was built with security in mind, it recently partnered with a safety consultant to improve any weaknesses, according to spokeswoman Colleen Reynolds.
Another spokeswoman said Imagine Charter School at North Manatee and Imagine School at Lakewood Ranch will hire guardians. The schools plan to contract with a company that hires retired law enforcement and military personnel.
State College of Florida Collegiate School employs staff from the SCF Department of Public Safety, and Team Success is putting three of its existing staff through guardian training.
Two of the employees have military experience, and the other was a police officer in Baltimore and St. Petersburg, Principal Armando Viota said.
Even before the Parkland shooting, Viota said, the school planned to secure its perimeter, limit entrances, install surveillance cameras and utilize key cards.
“We were thinking of enclosing our campus anyway,” he said. “Not because we had any threat — because it’s the right thing to do.”