Tax hike possible for school safety

Starting this fall, all Monroe County schools must have a police officer on campus while students are in the buildings.
Starting this fall, all Monroe County schools must have a police officer on campus while students are in the buildings. Keynoter

Monroe County, like the rest of the state, must place a police officer on the campus of every public schools starting this fall under a new state mandate that won’t bring much funding for it.

To come up with the estimated $1.6 million cost of the mandate, the School Board either has to increase taxes by 1/16th of a mill, which works out to $16 for a house assessed at $300,000, or cut staff, board members say.

“We do not have money laying around to pay for this,” said board member John Dick on Friday. As for eliminating positions, Dick said, “There’s already enough people out of work.”

The state’s response to the mass shooting in Parkland Feb. 14 that left 17 dead includes ordering school resource officers to be on all campuses, including public charter schools, at all times students are in the building.

Monroe County would have to add three SROS at elementary schools like Stanley Switlik Elementary and Gerald Adams Elementary and at the six charter schools, Dick said, but also make sure anytime students are in the building there is one on duty.

Board member Andy Griffiths estimated that the total Monroe County will get from the state for officers is $18,000.

A consensus to put the tax increase on either the August or November ballot emerged at Tuesday’s board meeting, which State Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) attended.

“Florida is going to be a role model for the rest of the states,” Raschein said of the $400 million school safety legislation. “We haven’t done anything this comprehensive in the decades I’ve been in Tallahassee.”

That money includes funding for mental-health issues.

Board member Ron Martin asked Raschein why she didn’t support a proposal to ban assault weapons.

“I didn’t vote against the assault weapons ban,” she replied, saying it was a procedural measure she voted against that would have taken the committee process away from the public. But Raschein added, “That bill would have banned every kind of weapon except muskets and revolvers.”

“I was kind of disappointed it took 17 deaths to push somebody to do something,” Martin said.

The board has already dismissed the state’s “guardian program,” which allows certain school employees to carry guns on campus. “I’m not a huge fan of it,” Raschein said. “But there are some significant districts and small districts interested.”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen