Pinellas County Schools face a massive budget deficit in the wake of new legislation spurred by the Parkland shooting.
The law requires school safety officers to be assigned to every public school in Florida.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says 156 new School Resource Officers would require over $20 million in initial startup costs and first-year salaries. State and school board contributions cover some of the cost, but leave more than $12 million unaccounted for.
“It’s not an option,” Gualtieri said. “It’s not an option to not do it. We have to provide for the safety of our kids and we have to make sure these campuses are safe. We have to do everything we possibly can to ensure that another similar situation like Parkland doesn’t happen anywhere, including here in Pinellas County.”
Florida schools must have the new school resource officers in place by July 1, but Pinellas County is still about $12 million short - with no other way to produce funds.
Gualtieri told Pinellas County Commissioner Mark Woodard about the issue in a letter on March 19.
“The sheriff’s office has no funds to meet this statutory obligation and I am told by the police chiefs that the cities have no funds either,” Gualtieri wrote. “The $12.4 million is needed immediately because we will have to staff many of the schools with personnel on overtime or temporary duty while we hire new officers and deputies.”
In addition to finding funding for new employees, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Gualtieri to lead the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.
The commission was given broad powers to uncover events that led to the shooting in February. Members of the group can compel witnesses to testify and subpoena records related to the shooting.
“The primary goal I have is to do it in a thorough, objective, fair way that produces a substantive product that is meaningful,” Gualtieri said.
“I think it’s a very, very important commission,” Gualtieri said. “A lot of substantive work to be done to figure out what happened and most importantly, to be able to figure out what needs to be done so it (the school shooting) never happens again.”
Other members of the commission include:
- Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina Petty, who was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
- Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow Pollack, who was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
- Max Schachter, the father of Alex Schachter, who was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
- Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff
- Sheriff Grady Judd, Polk County Sheriff
- Sheriff Larry Ashley, Okaloosa County Sheriff
- Superintendent Desmond Blackburn, Superintendent of Brevard Public Schools.
- Chief Kevin Lystad, Chief of the Miami Shores Police Department.
- Rick Swearingen, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner
- State Senator Lauren Book
- Douglas Dodd, Citrus County School Board
- James Harpring, Undersheriff for Indian River County
- Melissa Larkin-Skinner, Chief Executive Officer at Centerstone Florida
- Marsha Powers, Martin County School Board
- Chief Asst. State Attorney, Bruce Bartlett
- Chief Chris Nelson, Chief of Police for the City of Auburndale