Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie and several local Mayors from throughout the county are requesting tens of millions of dollars to cover full, consistent funding for armed security throughout the county’s schools.
Those parties were joined Wednesday by members of the Broward legislative delegation to discuss possible funding mechanisms in the upcoming 2020 Session to help fill those gaps.
“The best outcome for this meeting will be understanding, and hopefully we can coalesce with common goals,” said state Rep. Shevrin Jones, who chairs the Broward delegation.
Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer, who also serves as the President of the Broward League of Cities, said Tallahassee needs to work on a “dedicated, equitable, reliable funding source” for municipalities looking to abide by recent safety requirements mandated by the state Legislature.
Local governments have worked to cover existing gaps, but Stermer argues a permanent solution is necessary.
A law passed after the 2018 Parkland shooting requires Florida’s schools to have at least one safety officer on each campus.
Those officers can be members of law enforcement that work under a contract between a school district and a law enforcement agency. The safe school officer can also be a member of the Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which allows private individuals to undergo training in order to protect a school.
Runcie says close to 60 guardians are used throughout the county.
Currently, the Broward School District provides $55,000 to municipalities to help pay for school resource officers (SRO’s). The problem is, a contract with a law enforcement agency can run as high as $170,000 to cover the officer’s salary, the vehicle, radio and other equipment.
Though the state appropriated some money to help cover those gaps, local officials in Broward say they are often still left footing the bill.
Superintendent Runcie echoed Stermer’s concerns about a consistent funding source but said the problem goes beyond just money.
“Should we even have the money available, we couldn’t meet the numbers today just given the fact there are so many vacancies [in law enforcement].”
That is, the law enforcement agencies themselves are often lagging behind in hiring, leaving a manpower gap in terms of doling out officers to schools throughout the district.
State Rep. Chip LaMarca, one of only two Republicans to represent part of Broward County, acknowledged that reality at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Even if we had all the money in the world, and that wasn’t an issue, we’ve still got to encourage young men and women to endeavor to join law enforcement.”
Runcie and other local leaders proposed two potential solutions. One would be for state lawmakers to include enough funding to cover any gaps.
But another proposal, signed off by Runcie and Stermer, would be to allow municipalities to raise their millage rates above existing caps.
Currently, state law caps those millage rates even if local residents would approve an increase. Runcie said a half mill increase could generate as much as $100 million.
That’s more than enough money to cover any gaps in funding throughout the county, according to Brian Katz. Katz is the Chief Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness Officer at Broward County Public Schools and was also at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Nothing that we have put together so far would exceed this $100 million,” Katz said. “I don’t know that we would tap into anywhere near that amount.”
Those potential plans include a hypothetical school district police agency, such as the one utilized by neighboring Miami-Dade County. Katz said he estimates a $60 million price tag for such a move, but stressed that is not the preferred outcome for the Broward School District.
“Our goal is not to move toward that model where there is a school district law enforcement agency,” Katz said.
But allowing voters to approve a millage increase could rid any worries of future funding gaps.
Jones and LaMarca promised to continue dialogue during the upcoming Session, including an effort to hold a sitdown with House leadership. Stermer said he and other groups would take them up on that offer.
“It’s not only local [elected officials],” Stermer said of those concerned about the issue.
“It’s not only educational professionals and managerial professionals from the city. But it’s the law enforcement professionals who are also saying they get so much more out of having SROs in schools for the rest of the year with regard to intelligence, information and relationships. That’s part of the bond that exists with the SROs and communities.”