County, Sheriff’s Office and School District work out funding for additional School Resource Officers

In consideration of the atrocity out of Broward County last week, Sheriff Nienhuis, School Board Chairman Mark Johnson and the Board of County Commissioners discussed funding 10 additional School Resource Officers (SRO), an additional SRO Sergeant and a floating SRO for Hernando County public schools. The discussion occurred prior to a county commission workshop on Feb. 20., 2018. The Sheriff will be putting together a $600,000 to $650,000 budget amendment to bring before the county commissioners next Tuesday Feb. 27, 2018 during their regularly scheduled meeting. The School District and the County plan to split costs down the middle. The School Board will also meet next Tuesday and will vote on funding their portion of the SRO costs.

“I know our Governor and legislation is meeting right now, supposedly they’re coming up with a solution… Maybe they’re going to fund these things and it’s going to be a non-issue for us, but in the meantime, we can’t wait, ” said County Commission Chairman Steve Champion.

Several County Commissioners acknowledged that the additional SROs will not fix the problem and a comprehensive plan will need to be created.

Commissioner Holcomb remarked, “I will tell you that my whole entire family is in a school board building for the better part of the day, so ten SROs is only part of the problem. Not that I’m against it, it really needs to be a comprehensive plan to look at all facets of security. We will never be 100% protected from evil doers...”

School Board Chairman Mark Johnson explained that the school district has been “proactive” on this matter as they worked with the Sheriff’s Office 3 years ago to update plans of action, yet recalled that 3 years ago they were also under budgetary constraints. He pointed to a program in development through the National Alliance on mental health that will train teachers and students to identify individuals that may have underlying mental health issues as well as the anti-bullying campaign through the Hernando County Coalition.

Currently the school board is contributing $677,749 for the 14 SROs in the district, while the county picks up the tab for four of the 14 SROs plus one SRO Sergeant. (County Administrator Len Sossamon pointed out that the county allocates around $111,000 for the sergeant alone).

Sheriff Nienhuis estimated that the cost of the 14 current SROs is between $1.2 and $1.3 million for the fiscal year. The addition of 10 SROs, a sergeant and floating SRO to cover anyone out sick would be another $1.2 million per fiscal year, he says.

The roughly $300,000 apiece from the County and the school district would go towards filling the new vacancies in the short term with current SROs on overtime, hiring and training the new deputies over the summer. Sheriff Nienhuis was optimistic that they could have the new deputies fully trained by the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

With no SROs currently assigned to any of the elementary schools, there was a sense of urgency in finding the necessary funds.

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