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Schools will keep police presence

The Clearwater City Council and the School Board reach a tentative agreement.

By MIKE DONILA, Times Staff Writer
Published October 2, 2007


Clearwater leaders tentatively signed off on a plan Monday to keep school resource officers, a move that officially ends months of debate over the program.

The City Council during its work session unanimously agreed to a one-year contract with the Pinellas County School Board to place one Clearwater police officer in each of the following schools:

- Clearwater High.

- Countryside High.

- Oak Grove Middle.

- Kennedy Middle.

The council is expected to officially approve the contract during Thursday's council meeting.

Earlier this year, some school and city leaders battled publicly over whose responsibility it was to pay and staff the schools.

Under the gun by state mandates to cut spending, city leaders planned to pull their two officers out of Clearwater High School and the two from Countryside.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, facing its own budget restraints, said it would pull deputies from the middle schools.

In the end, though, Clearwater and school officials struck a deal to put one officer in each of the two public high schools and the two middle schools.

The city will pay close to $102,000 of the almost $300,000 in salaries and benefits for the four officers, with the School Board covering the rest. The Clearwater Police Department will supply the officers. Overall, Clearwater will save about $26,000.

Asked whether the schools would have adequate protection, Mayor Frank Hibbard said he didn't think city leaders would agree to the plan if they didn't.

In addition, police Chief Sid Klein said other officers will work closer to the schools to decrease response time.

The school resource officer program has been a part of the city for decades. The officers are responsible for on-campus investigations, heading off fights, building relationships with students and holding seminars.

"I think this shows our commitment to putting safety first on our campuses," said Pinellas County School Board member Nancy Bostock.

Susan Keller, principal of Kennedy Middle School, agreed.

She called the program a "pro-active piece" of working with students, and said the officers are well-liked.

The contract between the city and the School Board runs though the end of June.

At that time, both sides will discuss whether to extend it.

If state leaders hand down more spending cuts, those discussions could be just as intense next summer.

[Last modified October 1, 2007, 21:13:37]

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