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Fla. school district’s proposal to add its own PD fails in board meeting

Board members who opposed the creation of the police department cited prospective difficulty in recruiting officers and criticized the “lack of research” that went into the proposal


Broward County School safety officers attend a school board meeting at the Kathleen C Wright building in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, January 9, 2024. The Broward School Board will vote on whether to create a new police department, replacing the school resource officers now provided by the Sheriff’s office and city police departments. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Carline Jean/TNS

By Scott Travis
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — The Broward County school district is unlikely to form a full-scale police department any time soon.

The School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to reject a proposal from Superintendent Peter Licata, saying it was rushed and lacked public support. Board members also said the district needs to focus on other priorities, including a plan to close or repurpose underenrolled schools.

Members of the public were near unanimous in their opposition of the plan, arguing it was a plan that was drafted without public input, is unlikely to save money and could make schools less safe.

As a result, school resource officers from the Broward Sheriff’s Office and city police departments, as well as non-sworn armed guardians hired by the district, will continue to provide protection in schools for the foreseeable future.

A request to the state Legislature for $5 million in startup costs will also be withdrawn, said State Rep. Dan Daley, who agreed to make the request subject to School Board approval.

“It isn’t broke. I don’t think we need to be in a rush to fix it,” Board member Debra Hixon said.

“We went too fast,” Board member Allen Zeman added.

Zeman said the only information the board had to make a decision was a 15-page PowerPoint presentation, not a well-researched report.

Board member Brenda Fam compared the district’s plan to the failed clear backpack proposal, which the board announced first and then sought public input. The board dropped the plan due to lack of support.

“I feel we have fumbled the ball again,” she said.

Board member Jeff Holness suggested the board bring the idea back in April, following more research and public input. But that idea was rejected.

“We have too many things on our plate we need to be discussing in the up and coming months,” said Board Chairwoman Lori Alhadeff. “This not the right timing.”

The School Board decided to explore the idea of a police department last summer amid complaints from local municipalities that the school district was failing to adequately pay the costs of providing school resource officers.

The School Board agreed to raise the payment from $61,200 per officer in 2021 to $103,000 in 2023. So far, the district and the cities have not reached a reimbursement agreement for the current school year, although the school resource officers are still serving in the meantime.

Last summer, the city of Hollywood asked the School Board to increase reimbursement to $166,959 per officer as well as pay for two supervisors at a cost of $208,261 each.

The district’s proposal for an internal police force was unclear about whether it would save money. The cost for each officer would be cheaper, but there would be supervisors and additional operating and capital costs.

One of the controversial parts of the plan was phasing out the district’s 120 armed guardian positions. These non-sworn officers, most of whom have military or law enforcement backgrounds, are placed in schools that either don’t have a police officer or need extra support.

The guardian program was created in 2018 in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting to comply with a state law requiring every school to have armed protection.

Dwayne Jiles, a guardian, said there have been no shootings on any campus where guardians have provided protection.

“We have provided a safe and secure environment to the staff, students and visitors despite not being properly compensated,” he said.

Guardians make about $37,000. Under the proposal, they would have been replaced by district officers making about $70,000.

Many Broward mayors and city commissioners opposed the plan, saying the current school resource officers are serving the district well, and the district would be unlikely to fill the needed positions due to a police officer shortage.

“This proposal was ill conceived, mistimed and misplaced from the get-go,” Weston Commissioner Byron Jaffe told the South Florida Sun Sentinel after the vote.

Alhadeff initially supported creating a new police force, but changed her mind prior to Tuesday’s vote.

“When I started peeling back the layers of the proposal and having more conversation with law enforcement and elected officials, it needed more work,” she said. “It’s a good start of a plan but we need to go out for more extensive conversations with our communities and city officials.”

Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed in the Parkland tragedy, has made school safety a top priority on the School Board.

“Our SRO’s and guardians do an excellent job,” she said. They’ve taken lessons learned from the tragedy “to create a safer school environment.”

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