Will 5 percent raise lure more cops to schools beat, stem exits?


At a time when the Palm Beach County School District seeks to hire 75 additional officers to patrol its schools and is facing criticism that it doesn’t pay its police force enough, district leaders and police union negotiators have struck a deal that would give school officers a 5 percent raise.

Under the agreement, the raise would be across the board and increase the base salary of a first-year officer by $2,160, making it more competitive with other departments at $45,464 a year.

It also moves the officers’ hourly pay to $26.81, surpassing the hourly rate at both Miami-Dade’s school police department and Palm Beach County’s Sheriff’s Office, according to the district’s calculations.

Before the first check is cut, both the school board and the union’s school police membership would have to vote in favor of the raises, which would be retroactive to Jan. 1. The board will meet Wednesday. Union members likely would take a week to 10 days to weigh in, said Kevin O’Sullivan, a school police officer negotiating on behalf of the union.

District leaders estimate the boost in salaries will cost about $494,000 a year. But school police agreed to bear about 40 percent of the expense, foregoing $250 quarterly attendance incentives and performance bonuses for a year.

O’Sullivan described the compromise as a beginning that will make starting salaries more attractive, but does not address long-standing concerns that more tenured officers haven’t gotten raises that keep pace with their law enforcement brethren in certain city and county departments.

The raise was negotiated as forces outside the district shined a light on school policing, and as the department underwent a change of command.

The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Act passed in the wake of the fatal Parkland shootings in February, demanded that districts post a police officer at every school. That requirement meant the district’s decades-old school police force of more than 150 sworn officers needed to grow by half — quickly. And while the act offered some money to expand the force, that money can’t be used for raises.

Anticipating it could not hire 75 officers by the time school opens in August, the district began negotiating with the sheriff’s office and municipal governments to fill in the gaps — paying overtime rates for the temporary subs, drawing the ire of its own officers.

Meanwhile, freshly appointed Superintendent Donald Fennoy announced that, faced with the challenge of growing the department, he would redefine the police chief’s role and in June hired Jupiter’s Frank Kitzerow to take over.

Days later, a grand jury investigating school security blasted Palm Beach County public schools. Among the criticisms: The district has too few officers and doesn’t pay them enough.

The district leadership contends the grand jury and others have been comparing apples to oranges. School police work day shifts during the week for 216 days a year. They have guaranteed holiday and spring breaks in an environment unlike those most street cops encounter.

On the other hand, school police don’t accrue weeks of sick and vacation time, said John Kazanjian, president of the county chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association. Other police departments have a pay schedule of annual stepped increases that come in addition to any cost of living raise — school police do not, he said.

Rumors have floated that up to 20 school police are seeking jobs with the sheriff’s office. Neither Kazanjian nor O’Sullivan believe the 5 percent raise will stem that tide.

But O’Sullivan holds some hope for more change: “PBA thinks highly of the new chief, Frank Kitzerow. He’s a well-respected law enforcement executive who we look forward to working with to move the department forward.”

In November, teachers negotiated a 3 percent raise and $1.3 million in one-time bonuses to guidance counselors and other educators covered by the teachers union contract but who aren’t eligible for the state’s teacher bonuses.



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