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Estero Discussing School Resource Officer Funding After Two Cities Decline

The City of Fort Myers and Cape Coral have agreed to partner with the Lee County School District to fund School Resource Officers (SRO) in all public schools.

Estero is still discussing participating in funding, but Bonita Springs and Fort Myers Beach have decided not to help fund the additions.

Whose responsibility is it in foot the bill anyways?

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais released the following statement:

“The School Safety Act legislation does not require cities or counties to support a School Resource Officer program with dollars. Individual decisions can be made by jurisdictions to do it voluntarily and to partner with the school district to ensure the safety of our community’s children.”

The manager sent an e-mail to those three cities who have yet to make a decision. These are some of the facts:

  1. Nothing mandates county and city governments to financially participate in the School Safety Act.
  2. The act provided $64 million for the School Safety Program statewide, which is enough for 647 new officers. The statewide need is 2,000 new officers. The Lee County School District portion is $1.6 million.
  3. The county’s SRO allocation for Fiscal Year 2018/19 will be $2.8 million, an increase from $2.4 million in the prior year.
  4. The cost for the plan for Lee County is $8 – 9 million. Lee County schools has an annual budget of around a billion and a half dollars.

Read the full e-mail Desjarlais sent to the Estero and Bonita Springs governments earlier in June:

“The Lee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) meeting Tuesday, June 5, included a discussion among commissioners and staff to provide historical context for and to address misinformation related to fiscal responsibilities under the School Safety Act.

The following information was conveyed:

First and foremost, nothing mandates nor compels county governments and city governments to participate financially in the School Safety Act.

The act is an unfunded mandate handed to all school districts in Florida. The statute’s language states, “…each district school board and school district superintendent shall partner with law enforcement agencies to establish or assign one or more safe school officers at each school facility…” This is a mandate on the school district and the superintendent. The BoCC and cities are not identified.

As you know, the 2018 Legislative session ended on March 11, and the School Safety Act passed during last two weeks of session. The Governor’s letter to all school districts was sent March 25. It explained the act provided $64 million for statewide School Safety Program – enough for 647 new officers. We know the statewide need is 2,000 new officers.

The Lee County School District portion is $1.6 million. The dollars go to the district, not the county.

You may recall that Lee County has a long history of providing a 50-50 share of funding for the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

For years leading up to 2011, the county partnered with the school district financially to pay for SROs in schools in the unincorporated area. These funds were paid from the Unincorporated MSTU tax rate (levied only in the unincorporated area). Likewise, the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers paid their portion within their boundaries from city tax rates and used their own officers.

In 2011, both cities left the program and the Sheriff started to supply SROs to middle and high schools in those cities. Beginning in Fiscal Year 2011/12, the BoCC agreed to fund Cape Coral’s and Fort Myers’ 50 percent of all middle and high schools using a post-recession combination of General Fund and unincorporated funding.

This arrangement was intended to make it through the hard times of the recession when all entities suffered significant tax-base and revenue losses. It was never intended to be a permanent arrangement nor was the SRO program intended to be a General Fund countywide service.

The county has continued its financial participation.

The county’s SRO allocation for Fiscal Year 2018/19 will be $2.8 million, an increase from $2.4 million in the prior year. In all, the BoCC has spent $17 million during the last decade on the SRO program, a significant commitment to the protection of our school children.

The BoCC addressed SRO funding in its April 3 Budget Work Session. At the regularly scheduled April 17 meeting, a BoCC Agenda Item codified consensus from the April 3 Work Session. It reads, “In regard to the School Safety legislation, the county’s policy is to pay a 50 percent cost share of School Resource Officers in all schools in the unincorporated area only through the Unincorporated MSTU Fund.” On April 23, we notified the Sheriff’s Office and the School District of the Board’s action.

Additionally, on May 1, Waterman Broadcasting, aired on NBC-2 a report on the Board’s action. Then a May 8 Lee County School Board meeting at which the SRO funding issue –and the Board’s action – was discussed generated additional and increased media coverage in print and broadcast. We know that the City of Bonita Springs knew of the BoCC funding decision no later than May 12 because of Vice Mayor O’Flinn’s email to the City Council.

The BoCC recognizes the importance of funding a portion of school safety for children by paying 50 percent of the unfunded mandated costs for unincorporated Lee County. As previously stated, this is a state mandate that is the responsibility of the school district. The City of Cape Coral, the City of Fort Myers, the City of Sanibel and the county have all partnered with the school district to fund this initiative in the areas for which they are responsible and hopefully keep our children safe at school.

This information is provided to you per Board direction. We hope this offers clarity to the situation at hand.”

RELATED: City of Fort Myers Approves Funding for School Resource Officers