The city of Lakeland plans to hire four more school resource officers to ensure someone is providing security against the possibility of a gunman while the officer usually assigned to the school is investigating a crime on campus or is out sick or on vacation.
The city is negotiating with the Polk School Board to pay 75 percent of the officers’ salaries next year, but one city commissioner said he’s afraid the city will end up paying the full amount of what should be a school district obligation. Another commissioner complained this is just another obligation pushed by the state Legislature without providing any funding.
City Manager Tony Delgado told city commissioners during a workshop session this morning that staff is negotiating with the Polk County School Board, asking the school district to pay the salaries and benefits for the extra personnel at the same 75 percent level it funds the other 17 school resource offices provided by the Lakeland Police Department.
While Delgado conceded to Mayor Bill Mutz question that there is no guarantee the School Board will deliver in future budgets on providing the 75 percent funding for the for extra officers, he said, “I feel we are having really good conversations with the School Board.”
Provisions in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act, passed by the Florida Legislature last year following the massacre at the high school in Parkland, require that a school safety officer be providing security at all times when school is in session.
The cost this fiscal year for the four extra officers and their vehicles and equipment is $415,811, Delgado said. The cost will drop next year into the $225,00 range because the vehicles and equipment will already have been purchased.
Commissioner Justin Troller said that while he agrees “school resource officers are necessary for the safety of our students, it is a School Board obligation.”
Troller said he fears that if the city “continues to relieve the School Board of its obligation” the city will end up in a similar situation as it has in providing athletic fields and facilities for some schools.
“The city has allowed the School Board not to have to build some of those sports facilities,” and if the city is not firm about this it could end up in a similar situation and continue to fund 100 percent of the cost for the four additional school resource officers, Troller said.
Troller formerly worked for the School Board as athletic director at Lakeland High School, resigning in December 2017 after being placed in an office job.
Commissioner Scott Franklin commented that while school security is important, “we do not tax to cover school commitments. It is another example of the state forcing something down on us and not paying for it. If we absorb this cost, we are letting the state off the hook.”
Picking up the extra costs should be sunsetted, Franklin said. “This is not our obligation to bear.”
Following the workshop session, Delgado said that the issue of providing the extra school resource officers came up as city staff was reviewing the additional costs, including overtime pay, required to ensure that a uniformed officer was providing security at all times school is in session at each of the public high schools and middle schools in the city limits. If the usual school resource officer is investigating a crime or otherwise diverted, another uniformed officer has to be brought onto campus, he said.
For example, “if the other officer is on traffic duty, then that leaves a hole in traffic enforcement,” Delgado said.
This situation and the additional costs to the city became apparent as staff looked at the allocation of police officer hours, he said.
The school district was already well into its budget year when city staff started assessing the impact of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act is having on its budget, Delgado said.
As with other school resource officers, during the summers and other breaks, the additional officers will work as part of the pool of city officers, Delgado said. Those summertime and school break hours account for the 25 percent the city pays toward the existing school resource officers’ salaries and benefits, he said.
LPD currently employs 12 resource officers and one truancy officer, with the four newly approved positions bringing the total to 17, according to spokeswoman Robin Tillet. (This article originally said there were 17 existing resource officers.)
During the Monday City Commission meeting, which begins at 3 p.m. at City Hall, commissioners are expected to act on the request to add the $415,811 total cost to this year’s budget.
That expenditure is the largest item in a package of personnel changes in the city’s annual rebalancing of its workforce.
The next-largest item is assignment of a third police officer to Florida Southern College, which will absorb the entire $142,770 first-year cost, which includes car, equipment and salary.