- By Andrew Marra Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach County’s public schools this week took a step closer to ensuring an armed officer on every campus by the start of the new school year with help from several city police agencies.
Eleven city police departments have tentatively agreed to provide officers to patrol 47 elementary schools within their city limits when school starts on Aug. 13, school district leaders announced Friday morning.
The officers would be paid overtime rates to patrol the schools seven hours daily and the school district would cover the costs. All told, district officials estimate, the price tag of the patrols could run to about $60 an hour, or $2,100 a week, per school.
The 11 cities include: Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Jupiter, Lantana, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Springs, Riviera Beach, West Palm Beach.
The agreements still need final approval from the school board and each city’s elected leaders, but school district leaders called the tentative deal a major step toward complying with new school security requirements imposed by state lawmakers after the Parkland school shooting in February.
Under the new state law, all Florida public schools are required to have armed security officers on campus, although they are not required to be certified law enforcement officers.
“Where we need help is with the elementary schools,” said Mike Burke, the school district’s chief financial officer, “and we reached out to the cities to say ‘Would you be willing to cover the elementary schools within your city limits?’”
The deal leaves uncovered roughly 45 other elementary schools. The school district is attempting to negotiate a separate agreement with the county sheriff’s office to cover those schools with off-duty deputies.
If necessary, the district could also deploy its detectives and police supervisors to patrol elementary schools until more full-time officers can be hired.
The district is trying to hire an extra 75 officers to patrol the elementary schools full-time, but leaders say it will likely take more than a year to fill those positions. The off-duty city cops and sheriff’s deputies are expected to fill the void until the school district’s police department completes its expansion.
“As we hire officers we can start plugging our own in,” Superintendent Donald Fennoy said in an interview Friday. “I would guess at least a year and we’ll keep assessing it.”