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Broward district to pay $40k more for each school cop

Clark County School District Police report a sizable uptick in reports of violence calls to dispatch since 2019.
Kirk Siegler/NPR
In the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting, state lawmakers mandated that every public school have an officer onsite. School districts — and local law enforcement agencies — are still struggling to shoulder the personnel costs.

The Broward County School Board is slated to pay an additional $40,000 a year for each of its school resource officers (SROs), under a new contract approved by the school board.

The local law enforcement agencies the district hires to guard its campuses have been waiting for eight months to be reimbursed for the work of the district’s 200 SROs, saying negotiations with the school system had "broken down".

“Let me just remind this board that it’s the school district’s responsibility to provide a safe schools officer,” said Hollywood Police Chief Chris O’Brien during Tuesday's Broward School Board meeting. “Municipalities are happy to be a partner in this. But we just want to be reimbursed a fair share.”

Board members hope the increased reimbursement rate will help mend relationships with local officers and agencies like the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the cities of Coral Springs, Miramar, Davie and others. Some officers have been warning the district not to take them for granted.

“If we [...] have people that don't come home, it doesn't matter what else we do. So it's imperative that we figure this out,” said School Board Member Debbi Hixon. “It is not just the money — it's the disrespect that they feel in the process of the negotiations that they've had. So we need to rectify that.”

It’s a sensitive issue in the district, where five years ago a former student murdered 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Hixon’s husband Chris was one of those killed.

The SRO stationed at the school failed to respond to the shooting, and instead hid for nearly 50 crucial minutes.

In the wake of the 2018 massacre, state lawmakers mandated that every public school must have a dedicated officer onsite. Districts say insufficient state funding has left them in this uncomfortable position of who should pick up the tab.

One of the most outspoken advocates for increasing the reimbursement rates is Parkland City Commissioner Bob Mayersohn, who’s also president of the Broward League of Cities.

“Not that we don’t want to provide the law enforcement officers, but this is very taxing on cities,” he said. “As inflation goes up, costs go up, cities are going to have to make decisions on what to include in their budgets and what to exclude.”

A substantial increase per officer

Under the agreement, Broward County Public Schools will reimburse local agencies at the rate of $103,000 per SRO for this academic year, as well as the next three years. The six figure total is a substantial increase from the previously-agreed upon rate of $61,200 per officer.

Board members signed off on the $103,000 amount for this year, despite concerns from BCPS’ Deputy Superintendent of Operations Judith Marte that the district doesn’t have the funds in its current budget and will have to cut into other school safety initiatives to cover the cost.

“It's my responsibility as the person that you have charged with being responsible for your finances … to express caution,” Marte said.

Beginning next year, Marte says the district will be able to pay $103,000 per officer, as the funding from the district’s voted-approved tax referendum will kick in – though she warned repeatedly that revenue projections for the referendum are just that — projections.

“The CFO in me needs to be clear — if we have an economic downturn that substantially impacts the yield from the referendum, depending on how bad … that downturn is … it could be an issue,” Marte said. “Although as we sit here today, it is not. Nor is it expected to be.”

The school board declined the municipalities’ request to also pay for supervisors — one for every seven SROs, which Mayersohn said has been a “sticking point” in negotiations. He says now it’s up to the cities to decide whether to accept the deal or not.

“It’s up to each individual municipality to negotiate,” he said. “That’s the challenge.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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