TALLAHASSEE __ A proposal that could bolster how much money is spent for school resource officers has been stalled in legislative committee limbo for weeks, despite an outcry to do more to be sure schools are safe.
In March, the state Senate’s education committee approved a measure that would allow counties to create an independent special taxing district to raise money to improve school safety and provide mental health services in school districts.
Senate Bill 514, dubbed the School Safety Act, was referred to the Senate’s community affairs committee for review. That review and hearing has yet to happen.
“This bill lets the voters decide. We don’t decide,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. “This is an option. By not voting for this bill, you do not give the voters the option to decide on school safety for their kids. It’s a common sense bill. Let the voters make the choice.”
The bill, according to a Senate staff analysis completed in early March, would allow counties to create an independent special taxing district to “assess the security and mental health referral needs” of public schools.
The district would collect money through an annual tax of no more than 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value. The creation of the district, and the subsequent tax, would need voter approval before it could be created.
That money then could be used to make capital improvements to beef up a school’s security and for mental health services.
Sobel said the real value could be in giving districts more money to hire school resource officers.
“Because of reduced funding and the recession, many schools have been left no viable way to pay for needed school safety measures,” she said. “There has been a continual tension between cities and school districts when it comes to funding. Many feel school districts should be footing the entire bill.”
In Collier County, the school district and Sheriff’s Office have a partnership under which the Sheriff’s Office pays for the county’s youth relation bureau deputies who work in the schools.
The partnership has been in place for about 35 years. Superintendent Kamela Patton said in a February interview with the Daily News the relationship is one that a lot of districts don’t have.
Collier’s northern neighbor doesn’t have such a partnership.
Earlier this year, the Lee school district’s security director told School Board members it would cost about $4 million a year to assign a Lee deputy at each of the district’s 40 elementary schools. The cost would be split between the district and Sheriff’s Office.
Lee schools Superintendent Joe Burke couldn’t be reached for comment, but in a February interview with the Daily News, Burke said he was aware there were conversations about ways to “find additional money for school security.”
Patton said she’s aware of Sobel’s measure, but since it’s still in its infancy she declined to comment on specifics of the bill.
“We anticipate that the proposed bill will be amended as it moves through multiple legislative committees in the Florida House and Senate,” she said in a prepared statement. “As such, the district will monitor and track this bill as it moves through the legislative process to better assess its potential impact before making a determination on its possible benefit to the district.”
The district could likely benefit from more dollars for school safety, since Patton in February said it already spends more than it receives from taxpayers toward school safety measures.
School safety is a hot topic this legislative session. Dozens of bills in both the state House and Senate have been filed addressing the topic, and Gov. Rick Scott, R-Naples, designated $74.9 million for school safety in his budget.
Sobel’s Senate bill needs to make it through three more stops before getting to the floor for a full Senate vote. The bill was referred to the community affairs committee on March 12.
The House companion bill House Bill 873 was filed in February and referred to four House committees. The bill, according to state House records, has yet to be voted on in any of those committees.