Mandate bumps school safety spending needs
Upon voter approval in November for the Lee County School District half cent sales tax referendum, the district voted this week to increase spending from $8,159,801 to $57.4 million on safety measures.
The school board placed the referendum on the General Election ballot in February. The surtax, if passed, would be in effect for 10 years, and would be used for financing the construction of new schools, renovations and additions to existing schools and upgrades and equipping of schools for safety and technology.
Chairman Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan said the average family of four making $50,000 a year would pay an additional $64 a year in sales tax, or 18 cents a day.
Food, gasoline and medicine would not be subject to the half-penny tax. which would be capped for high-end purchases.
“The surtax tops out at $5,000 for a single purchase,” Morgan said.
The school district, in a 5-1 vote approved a $57.4 million list that will keep students safe. Melisa Giovannelli opposed.
“The reason why people are not being supportive is we, as a board, our actions have to speak louder than our words. We can do better by presenting everything we do,” she said.
Board member Chris Patricca asks that those who are against the tax referendum to offer an alternative solution.
“Our business leaders support this referendum. I will enthusiastically vote yes,” she said.
The $57.4 million safety measure will include lockdown view panels, access control, surveillance with integrated technology, physical and technology single point entry, hardened doors and ADA/safety improvements.
Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said one of the initiatives the school district is currently undertaking is the Red Lock Program, which allows doors to be locked by a teacher while they are in the actual classroom, so they don’t have to step out into the hallway to lock a door.
“The protocol that is coming from the district is that any classroom that is not equipped is going to have to be locked at all times,” Adkins said. “In addition to that, if you have outdoor school buildings with outdoor classrooms those doors are to be locked. There will be no exceptions; that will be the rule that the doors have to be locked.”
He also explained that they will continue to work on single point entry at all of the schools.
“There will be work ongoing this summer, so we can take some large steps towards the goal of every school in the district being a single point entry,” Adkins said. “They have already ordered equipment that is used as single point entry and you have to be rung in and recognized by video.”
Lockdown access control is also a priority.
Operations Executive Director Jerry Demming said right now it is a challenging time for safety and security.
“After Parkland the state came down with every school should have an officer, if you are going with School Resource Officers, and we are doing that,” he said. “Every school will have a School Resource Officer.”
Demming said the county is no longer covering all of the district schools.
“The county is going to cover unincorporated Lee County, which is approximately 39 as you look at it now. They are adding an extra SRO in the big high schools, so they are adding another five SROs. They are in the mid 40s,” Demming said. “We had to figure out what is going on in the other two major cities, Fort Myers and Cape Coral. Both of those groups have stepped up and they are going to do the exact same contract as the Sherriff’s Office has done, which is we pay 50 percent of the cost of the SRO up to $50,000. They have agreed to that. The city of Cape Coral will be providing 19 officers and I believe the Fort Myers PD is 17.”
They are still working with the city of Bonita and Estero and the town of Fort Myers Beach. He said it will come down to the Sheriff’s Office paying, or the incorporated communities paying.
Adkins said he had a conversation with Sheriff Mike Scott recently relative to the municipalities in question. He said Scott has assured him that the district will have SROs in the buildings.
“We have decided to go with SROs because they are proven. They do a good job. They make the kids and the community feel safe. We have to make our children feel safe. If we can’t make our children feel safe they are not going to learn. These kids really have things to worry about. We have to make it to where they can go to school and they can enjoy what they can do at school. School should be a joyful time,” Demming said.
Safety & Security Director Richard Parfitt said they have reorganized the safety and security department by eliminating one of the two coordinator positions. With the elimination they added three zone security managers.
The security managers, he explained will have such responsibilities as assisting schools with their emergency responses, assisting risk assessments, being a liaison with SROs and school security specialists.
“These individuals would check in the district office, respond on daily basis for pressing issues and normal visits,” Parfitt said.
The initial salary was about $42,000 for school zone managers, he said.
Adkins said they have allocated a little over a million dollars out of the general fund to make sure the schools are safe schools.
“Our allocation from a district perspective has increased over the years with SRO. The state level has decreased the amount of dollars put into the SRO program and safe schools categorical until there was a tragedy in Parkland. All of a sudden they are now adding more dollars. If you look at where we are putting our priorities, we have our priorities squared away,” he said. “We are doing what I believe strongly is the safest option (SROs). The law enforcement has been there for us for many years. I have a comfort that we as a school district are partnering with the Sheriff’s Department that has been a phenomenal partner. I have to say that Chief Diggs with Fort Myers and Hanley with the City of Cape Coral have also really done us proud. I think they know the priority the community has of securing their schools.”