School officers likely to stay
The Police Department proposed cutting three resource officers from Largo schools.
By LORRI HELFAND
Published July 20, 2007
LARGO - City leaders have received a flurry of e-mails from parents worried about losing resource officers at their children's schools.
The outcries followed a proposal by the Largo Police Department to cut three resource officers from Largo high and middle schools.
But Largo schools likely won't lose resource officers after all because of a proposed agreement between the city and school district, police Chief Lester Aradi said Thursday.
Because of state tax overhauls this year, the city was tasked with trimming its budget. School resource officers were among the cuts proposed.
Aradi said he at first wasn't sure if the Pinellas school district would fill the void.
But after a recent meeting with other law enforcement leaders and Pinellas County schools superintendent Clayton Wilcox, Aradi said he's confident there will be an agreement that will keep officers in the schools.
"I think everyone on all sides of the spectrum is working really hard not to get rid of them," he said.
Terri George, one of the moms who wrote City Hall, said she's glad schools probably will keep their officers.
"In this age, children need to know there's someone there watching them to keep them safe and keep them in line," said George, whose 13-year-old son will be entering seventh grade at Largo Middle.
Last year, Largo had two resource officers at Largo High School and one at Largo Middle.
Pinellas County school officials have offered to fund one resource officer in each school.
The school system would also provide a campus monitor, tasked with assisting the Largo High officer, so only one high school officer will be needed, Aradi said.
If the agreement is approved, the city would receive $20,000 more funding from the school district than last school year, plus support from the monitor.
The average cost for each resource officer is about $64,200, Aradi said.
Last school year, Pinellas County schools provided Largo about $78,300 toward two officers, one in the middle school and another in the high school. The third officer was funded by Largo entirely.
This coming year, it would offer Largo about $98,000, or $49,000 per officer.
Costs for 56 Pinellas County school resource officers in fiscal year 2006-07 came to about $2.2-million.
The upcoming proposal includes about $427,100 less for 36 officers, but applies that amount to cover 10 new campus monitors.
School district spokesman Andrea Zahn said the safety of campuses is a priority. But, in light of budget reductions, the school system had to review the issue to come up with a workable solution.
Aradi said he expects the agreement with the school system to move forward. He plans to assign resource officers to schools next month unless city leaders advise him otherwise.
"I have to prepare for the school year and I have to prepare for the kids," Aradi said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.