Hiring qualified armed guards, SROs proves difficult

By Jerry Askin – Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. – Many Central Florida districts are making new safety changes and even shuffling resources to meet new state-required mandates after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Every school district plans to have an school resource officer or armed guardian at every school by the 2019-2020 academic year, yet for some agencies, funding, training and recruitment are still big issues.

Howie-Alice Jones said there is no price too high to keep her 14-year-old son safe. She’s like many parents focused on her son’s safety, now more than ever.

“They’re all priceless. We have to do something. We have to keep them safe,” Jones said. “That was the first thing I asked the principal at open house: What are we going to do to make sure our kids stay safe?”

For some Central Florida counties, deputies said they’re lacking the funds.

“We’re going to be facing challenges with our budget most likely when it comes down to that,” Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson said.

Gibson said this school year he has $8.3 million for the SRO program, but that means he has to pull deputies from other duties and rely on retirees. He said he’s trying to cut costs without shorting regular patrols.

“How do you put a price on a child’s life? That’s really the question and to not get funding is for me to ask the people who are saying, no, how much is a child’s life worth? It’s priceless,” Gibson said.

He said they’re relying on state money and a recent federal grant, but those aren’t expected to last.

Lake and Volusia counties are using school resource officers and armed guards called guardians. Brevard County has SROs and school safety specialists. A school guardian is typically paid less than a school resource officer.

Gibson said he prefers deputies in all schools, but it could mean a need for more money.

“I don’t believe their job is to change hats at a moment’s notice, pull out a firearm and maybe take a life from one of the children who maybe they instructed,” Gibson said.

In Orange County, leaders have $14.2 million set aside for the SRO program, yet at last check, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office was still down 21 patrol deputies who have now filled vacant SRO positions. They’re working to change that.

“Our goal is to have a deputy physically in every school by the start of the new school year,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said.

Mina said the biggest problem isn’t so much the money, it’s finding and training qualified people.

“We’re not going to let everyone be a deputy and we’re certainly not going to let everyone protect our children,” Mina said.

Many school district and county leaders in Central Florida said they’re working to have multiple armed guards in the high schools.

Below is a county-by-county breakdown of how schools are budgeted for the SRO program.

Brevard County:
Brevard County officials did not provide information about the budget, but did say that there is a deputy or school safety specialist at every school. Salaries for those employees is based on experience.

Flagler County
There is a school resource officer placed in every school. There is $1,386,889 allotted for that program. The starting salary for those deputies is $37,000.

Lake County
In the 2018-2019 budget, $1.8 million was designated for the SRO program to allow an SRO or school guardian to be placed in every school. From that budget, $300,000 was used for hiring a district safety officer, buying software and training and paying school guardians. The starting salary for a guardian is $32,000 while the starting salary for a deputy is $36,000.

Marion County
The total budget for the SRO program in 2018-2019 was $2,289,17. That money was used to hire 25 new school resource officers to be in compliance with state law. The salary for a deputy starts at $35,000.

Seminole County
There is an SRO at every school and two at every high school. The average starting salary for an SRO in Seminole County is $45,000. The SRO budget for 2019-2020  not yet finalized but is expected to be about $5 million.

Sumter County
There is an SRO at every school and each one earns about $67,571.93 annually. The total budget for the SRO program for the 2019 fiscal year was $1,367,091.

Orange County
An SRO is assigned to every school but some elementary schools split a deputy but there will be a deputy in every school next academic year. The SROs were previously patrol deputies, which has left some vacancies in the department. The budget for the SRO program is $14,237,278 with deputies earning a salary of about $45,000.

Osceola County
An SRO is assigned to every school. The total budget for the SRO program is $8.3 million, which includes training, salaries, purchasing vehicles and more. The starting salary for an SRO is about $37,000.

Volusia County
There is either a deputy or school guardian on every campus. The total budget for the program is $3,430,924.21 with school guardians earning $38,507 per year.