Running out of time — and short on cash — the Broward County school district is looking to hire armed guards instead of sworn law enforcement officers to protect schools to comply with a new state law.
Over the past few weeks, the Broward County School Board has amended its policies to make way for non-sworn personnel to carry weapons on campuses. The board will inch closer to making it official by considering advertising the position for the “armed safe school officer” at a 10 a.m board meeting Tuesday.
New state law requires an armed guard at every school, and although the law allows for school staff who aren’t exclusively classroom teachers to carry weapons, Broward created the role specifically for protecting students, staff and visitors against active threats. The job description calls for using “the appropriate level of force to stop, disrupt or eliminate physical threats to students, staff and visitors on school property” as well as “use and care for firearms (and) communications equipment.”
The new law comes after the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in which former student Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people.
The 10-month job pays $25,000 to $32,619, or $17 to $22 an hour. Minimum qualifications include a standard high school diploma or GED, two years of sworn law enforcement experience in “good standing” within the past 10 years and all the requirements outlined in Senate Bill 7026: A valid license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm, completing 132 hours of comprehensive firearm safety, passing a psychological evaluation and passing initial and random drug tests.
Broward plans to hire an armed guard for every school without a sworn school resource officer. Last year, the district contracted 166 school resource officers through the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and 16 municipal police departments. There are 234 schools in the district.
Spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan said the district is working with municipal police departments and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office to “confirm their support” for next school year, which starts Aug. 15. The district, which paid 30 percent of the cost of a school resource officer, plans to increase its share of the bill.
“It is expected that the number of SROs will increase during the next school year,” Brennan wrote in an email.
Broward received an additional $8 million in Safe Schools funding from the state to cover salaries of armed guards. Training for armed guards hired by the school district will be paid for by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
Armed guards are significantly less expensive than staffing a school resource officer at every school, which costs about $100,000 per SRO annually.
If the district were to staff an SRO in every school, it would cost $11 million to $16 million and could result in a funding shortfall of $4 million to $8 million, according to a board presentation from last week. The board voted to place a referendum on the August ballot for school resource officer and school security staff funding in addition to increased compensation to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers.
If passed, the referendum is projected to generate $93 million. The average homeowner with a home valued at $239,000 would pay $119 in the first year, and the average condo owner with a home worth $130,000 would pay $66. The funds would be available July 1, 2019.
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