Florida school district seeking companies to provide armed security officers

Manatee County still working out the costs of 2 additional SROs and 33 armed security officers

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- With a plan to add armed security officers in every elementary school, the Manatee County School District is taking a "proactive" approach to safety and security, according to school district officials.

"The community made it their No. 1 goal to have security in each school," Troy Pumphrey, the district's professional standards investigator, told the Lakewood Ranch Kiwanis Club during a meeting Tuesday.

Pumphrey spoke to a small crowd about updates to a plan unveiled by district officials at the most recent school board meeting. The district put out a request for proposals on Monday for companies that can provide the services the district wants. No one has formally finished the application yet, Pumphrey said, but a number of companies are interested.

"We've started getting bombarded with companies now," he said.

At the previous school board meeting, district officials announced preliminary plans to potentially add armed security officers in each of the district's 33 elementary schools and increase the number of student resources officers so each middle and high school has a full-time, dedicated SRO.

An additional $2 million now projected in the fiscal year-ending fund for the 2013-14 Manatee County School District budget makes it possible for the district to consider adding the officers. Earlier this year, the district projected it would end the fiscal year with $4 million in the fund. The estimate is now $6 million. The increase in the fund balance came from strict budget management, district officials said.

The district is still working out the cost of the two additional SROs and the 33 armed security officers, but the estimate given Tuesday by Pumphrey is about $1.1 million. The current plan is that security officers will not be active law enforcement officials, but many of those who serve as security officers are former law enforcement officials or former military.

The vision is that the officers will not be intrusive but will work hand-in-hand with school principals and provide an educational component for children. In addition to providing security, the officers will allow elementary children to begin to build positive relationships with law enforcement officials, Pumphrey said.

"It starts with our babies. Our babies can't be afraid of law enforcement," he said

Tuesday's Kiwanis Club meeting was run by current school board chair and former Kiwanis chair Julie Aranibar, who said children's safety is paramount. A good learning environment starts with a safe learning environment, Aranibar said.

"It's that simple," she said.

The district wanted to work with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office to fund elementary school SROs, but it wasn't possible based on fiscal constraints. Adding SROs from the sheriff's office to each elementary would cost more than $3 million, officials estimated.

The district also plans to hire a director to oversee its safety and security program.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.

Copyright 2014 - The Bradenton Herald