When the state doles out $97.5 million to hire more school police officers this summer, Palm Beach County School District officials expect to get enough to add 75 officers to its ranks of more than 160 – enough to cover all of its campuses from Boca Raton to Jupiter and west to the Glades as required by a new state law.
Until those hires can be made, the school district will make do with informal agreements with varying police agencies and by giving dozens of principals the means to make one temporary hire that can be used to put more eyes and ears where principals feel safety demands it, school district Chief of Staff Amity Schuyler said Monday.
About 10 percent of the county’s $6.1 million allocation will go to local charter schools based on their enrollment, while the district takes the remaining $5.5 million to cover more than 160 schools it manages, Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke said.
For years, Palm Beach County schools have operated its own police department and placed at least one officer in every high school and middle school, while having multiple elementaries share one floating officer.
The law signed this month in the wake of the Parkland shootings demands that every school has at least one school safety officer working on property by the time next school year begins.
Palm Beach County’s school police department already has five vacancies, and hiring and training 80 officers by August would be a challenge, Schuyler said.
“It has to be a scaled approach,” she said.
Now the district is working with other law enforcement agencies to come up with “good faith” agreements to cover those schools without an officer. City officials in Boca Raton, for example, say they have shifted officers to make sure schools in their town don’t go without security.
Depending on the pace of hiring, the district may turn to more formal agreements by the time next school year rolls around, Schuyler said.
Meanwhile, 10 weeks remain in this school year. To help better manage campus comings and goings, the district will let all middle and high school principals and principals at elementaries that don’t have single points of entry hire a temporary employee, Schuyler said.
The employee is being added under the budget line for “substitute teacher,” the most expedient way to allow principals to bring in temporary help, who likely would be a substitute already familiar with the campus, Schuyler said.
The district also is in line to get $4.3 million from the state for student mental health services. Charters will again get about 10 percent, leaving district-managed schools with just under $4 million. These sums are separate from the pot created to address safety improvements at school properties – such as gates and locks.