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Schools may not get officers
The sheriff's budget may not allow hiring four new resource officers.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published September 5, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - The Sheriff's Office money struggles with the Pasco County Commission are about to spill over into the school system.
County commissioners have told the sheriff that because of tight budgets, he can't add more officers to his staff.
The sheriff, in turn, has tentatively nixed a School Board request for four more school resource officers, as well as additional traffic control officers and crossing guards.
As a result, the district's 43 elementary schools appear likely to have to go without deputies on campus. They stand to lose their antidrug D.A.R.E. program, too.
"Until we know where we're coming from in the county, dollarwise, we may not have the funds to fill all the positions," sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said.
The School Board on Tuesday delayed action on its $1.5-million SRO contract with the Sheriff's Office until it knows what exactly is going on. It approved similar but smaller contracts with the police departments in Dade City, Zephyrhills, Port Richey and New Port Richey.
District officials asked for the extra officers to serve in new schools. It wanted one for Sunlake High, another for Rushe Middle, a third to work elementary schools until Crews Lake Middle opens next fall, and a fourth to float, covering for anyone who's absent or called away.
School Board members didn't see why the Sheriff's Office should balk, as the district pays the officers' salaries and benefits for 180 work days, about 10 months. Some figured that a handful of 911 calls to elementary schools might eat up any savings.
But the county has told the Sheriff's Office to assume it will get no more people than it got last year - even if 10 months of those salaries are paid by the school system. So while the sheriff wants to help the schools, his hands are tied unless the commission changes its tune during a meeting today.
If the numbers don't change, the district expects to pull four of the five county resource officers who serve elementary schools and put them into middle and high schools, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
"I think you all can see the need for having SROs, particularly at the secondary level," Fiorentino told the School Board.
At elementary schools, the officers are more often used to create the "Officer Friendly" attitude among youngsters, she said, an important but not as vital role as preventing trouble that might break out at the upper grades.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.