School board OKs new SROs, but wants sheriff to help pay for them

A month after a former student killed 17 people at a Broward County high school, the Citrus County School Board voted to ask the Citrus County Sheriff's Office to split the cost of five additional school resource officers — providing for one at each school in the county for the remainder of the school year.

According to estimates provided by district staff, the total cost of those five SROs for April, May and June would be $165,251. If the CCSO agrees to the cost-sharing arrangement, the cost to each agency would be $82,625.

The sheriff's office had also requested that the district consider the addition of a sergeant to provide more supervision for the growing SRO ranks, as well as an extra SRO to provide coverage if a deputy stationed at a school is unable to work for any reason.

The cost of five SROs, an additional sergeant, and a backup deputy for three months would come to $235,949, according to the district.

Before the vote, board member Thomas Kennedy questioned the function of the additional sergeant.

"We've got a Title I position that we aren't funding ... we have two specialists in Educational Services that we don't have hired right now," Kennedy said. "We're getting five SROs and a floater ... I'm not sure what the sergeant is for."

Board member Sandy Counts echoed that concern.

"I don't know why adding five more means you need to have a sergeant," Counts said, clarifying that she supported the addition of a sergeant for the next school year, but not for the remaining three months of the current one. She also voiced concerns about taking money from classrooms, field trips and other school needs to cover the costs.

Assistant Superintendent Jonny Bishop explained that Sheriff Mike Prendergast and CCSO staff suggested the sergeant due to concerns about appropriate supervision of what would become a force of 19 total SROs.

"The span of control, in terms of numbers, for the one sergeant they currently have is getting too large, in terms of management," Bishop said.

The board also discussed what could happen if the CCSO isn't willing or able to split the costs for the remainder of the school year.

School board Chairman Doug Dodd pointed out that the sheriff's office's budget year starts Oct. 1, and so the sheriff would need to go to the county commission with an emergency funding request.

The school district's budget year begins July 1, and the school board's contract with the sheriff's office ends June 30. Bishop said negotiations for a new contract will begin in the next several weeks.

"We're just trying to get through to the end of the school year," Kennedy said after the vote. "We recognize that there needs to be fuller conversation about what that team looks like moving forward."

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