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Suncoast school districts struggling to afford school resource officers

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SARASOTA/MANATEE COUNITES, FL (WWSB) - Suncoast schools are struggling to fund state mandated school resource officers.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act mandates that all Florida schools have school resource officers, and although the state is providing some extra funding for that, schools are realizing it's not nearly enough. It's left districts to foot millions of dollars in bills.

It costs Manatee County Schools $3.5 million to put a school resource officer in every school and two ateach high school. That price tag could go up if the county backs out of paying their half of the bill.

"They're concerned that should the $25,000 homestead exemption go into place, they're looking at a deficit," Manatee School Board Chair Scott Hopes explains.

Even though taxpayers just approved the recent tax referendum bringing more than $30 million extra to the district, school safety money isn't likely to come out of that funding.

"We were very specific with the voters about how that money would be used," Hopes says.

In Sarasota County, it'll cost the district $5.1 million to have SROs in all of the schools. Local law enforcement has backed out of paying their portions of the bill, so it's up to the district to fund it alone.

Sarasota Schools aren't sure that SROs will be the direction they go in when it comes to protecting their schools.

"The main options we have is to continue to partner with those agencies, or there is an option in front of us to explore creating our own police force," superintendent Dr. Todd Bowden says.

Regardless of how the districts fund these school resource officers, they are committed to keeping SROs or some kind of armed law enforcement official in each and every school.

"As we go through this deliberation, what I want the public to know is there are deputies and officers on every campus on this district," Dr. Bowden says. "These conversations are about the 2018-2019 school year."

These funding decisions will be made as both districts work on their 2018-2019 budget.

Sarasota School Board is meeting on April 17th for a school safety workshop to decide whether or not to go with SROs or to create their own force.

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