Officer-in-every-school mandate hits local-government budgets

For years Indian River County and the school district have split the cost of school resource officers at traditional schoolsand will do so again for the upcoming school yearalthough the new state law to put one in every school is not fully funded, straining their budgets.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Indian River County Administrator Jason Brown said. “But the recommended commitment to this program is for one year only. I think the long-term solution is for the state to find the funding.”

The county will do its best, but the ability to help may be hindered by a looming constitutional amendment that will allow property owners to pay less property tax. If the increase to the homestead exemption passes, Brown said, the county will face $3 million less in property tax revenue.

The county is also absorbing ancillary costs associated with the school resource officer program. “I want to be clear that we are not charging for equipment and other expenses, such as officers’ cars and radios,” Brown said. “The half we’re billing the district is just for salaries and benefits.”

Last school year the sheriff’s office provided 12 officers, two each at Vero Beach and Sebastian high schools, one at the Freshman Learning Center, one at the Alternative Center for Education, one at each of the four middle schools, one floating elementary school officer and one sergeant supervisor.

According to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Major Eric Flowers, next school year, starting mid-August, they will provide 11 more officers, mostly to cover elementary schools, but there will also be a lieutenant and another sergeant added to supervise.

The total budget for officers for traditional schools last year was about $1.1 million. Next school year, starting mid-August, it will double to $2.2 million, with the county paying $1.1 million, Brown said.

The school district will get nearly $1.1 million from the state for “Safe Schools” compared to $425,000 last school year. The money is not exclusively for officers—it can also be spent on hardening buildings and other safety measures– and the district has not given a breakdown of how it will spend the funding. Therefore it is unknown how many local tax dollars the district will use to provide school resource officers.

According to school district documents, nearly $240,000 of local funds were used to put an officer in every school to finish out the school year after the Valentine’s Day Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the county paying the same amount.

Besides traditional schools, the Sheriff’s Office will cover a private school and four of the five public charter schools, starting mid-August. The five public charter schools will get about $200,000 of the $1.1 million state funding. The private school, St. Edwards, has agreed to pay 100 percent of the cost, while the charter contracts are still in the works, Flowers said.

The City of Vero Beach Police Department and the City of Sebastian Police Department have also stepped up to the plate.

The Vero Beach Police Department will pay half of the cost for three schools. It will provide an officer at St. Helen’s, a private school, and two traditional public schools, Rosewood Magnet elementary and Beachland Elementary. According to district documents, each will pay half of nearly $120,000 for the two traditional school officers.

Sebastian Police Chief Michelle Morris said they will fund half the cost to provide officers at one charter and two traditional schools, Sebastian Charter Junior High School, Pelican Island Elementary and Sebastian Elementary. Those contracts are still in the works.

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