Broward Legislative Delegation Approves Proposal for Officers in All County Schools

With local legislators supporting the bill, it next goes to Tallahassee

The Broward Legislative Delegation approved Tuesday a proposal to place officers in all of Broward's public schools.

The delegation met Tuesday afternoon at the Governmental Center Commission Chambers in Fort Lauderdale to discuss the School Safety Act of Broward County. With local legislators supporting the bill, it next goes to Tallahassee.

In addition to paying for officers at schools, the act from State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, would provide mental health referral services for students and staff throughout the county through an 11-member Broward School Safety Board.

Sobel's plan would use a new property tax to fund the act, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. According to the act, Broward voters would have to vote to approve an additional property tax of 50 cents for every $1,000 of county property subject to taxes.

The new school safety board would use the property tax revenues to help Broward's public schools pay for student resource officers, or SRO's. Currently the county can only afford to offset part of the cost.

“The Broward County School Board provides $46,252 per SRO to cities to defer some of the costs. The actual cost of an SRO officer, including equipment, is somewhere between $120,000 and $130,000," Sobel said Tuesday.

She drafted her bill following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 students and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary last month. Safety in Broward schools became a priority in the shooting's aftermath.

All of the county's middle and high schools have SRO's, but some of its elementary schools share the officers.

Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan said he supports Sobel's measure.

“We have eight elementary schools and we have full-time SRO's in every school. They’re police officers, they're members of SWAT, tactical field force," Ryan said. "They're part of the teams that patrol neighborhoods, we want every school in Broward County to have them.”

The bill could go before Broward voters in a referendum as soon as August 2014. That is not soon enough, some speakers said at Tuesday's meeting.

“I don't think the bill and the way it's drafted now puts any emphasis or any urgency on putting these resource officers in the schools,” said State Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach.

Though it's still in its early stages, Broward Superintendent of Schools Robert Runcie called the bill a step in the right direction for school safety.

“We obviously can't craft a bill, figure out the execution plan and all the components in like four, five, six weeks – not for something of this magnitude,” he said.

Runcie said the wording of the bill needs some fine-tuning before he can fully support it, however.

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