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Lee Schools to tap reserves to pay for extra security?

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Lee Schools to tap reserves to pay for extra security?

By Matt Grant. CREATED Jan 9, 2013

FORT MYERS - Less than 24 hours after Lee County's Superintendent announced sweeping security changes throughout their schools, Fox 4 has learned there could be problems paying for those changes. 

"We want to do whatever we can," said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke, "to provide additional security to the schools."

On Tuesday, Burke proposed expanding the school resource officer program by putting a SRO in every school. Currently, officers shuffle between the district's 45 elementary schools when they're needed. 

There is an officer stationed at every middle and high school.

According to Burke, who proposed the idea, it would cost $4 million to hire 45 additional SRO's. The cost would be split between the sheriff's office and the district.

In an interview Wednesday, Burke says going forward with the plan will be a "difficult task."

"Where would the money come from?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"Well actually for us right now it would mean that we would have to dip into the reserves," said Burke. "And the [school] board has been very, very reluctant to do that."
I would say right now that it's fairly slim," said Burke when asked about the possibility of getting grant money.

"Absent some new source of money," said Burke, "it's going to be a difficult task."

Instead of dipping into emergency reserves, Burke says the district could apply for state grants to offset the cost. But he's not counting on that.
 
The head of the school board, the superintendent and the teacher's union all say putting an SRO in every school is a good thing. What is unclear is where the money will come from.

Donna Mutzenard with the teacher's union supports the idea but is skeptical about how it will be funded.

"Budgets are still tight, so money is a concern," said Mutzenard. "Show me the money." 

Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott would have to find $2 million to fund his share of the SRO expansion plan. He supports Burke's idea and says he could find ways to come up with the cash.

"It's difficult to put a price tag on safety," said Scott. "Especially, the safety of our children."


Scott and the superintendent are still in talks about how to expand the program. The sheriff says he's not ruling out asking the county for more money.

"Perhaps we take some deputies from other areas and look at what the priorities are going to be," said Scott.

"Listen," said Scott, "we're building fountains [in downtown Fort Myers], we're building ball fields [Jet Blue Park], we're building all kinds of things all over the place. We can focus, for sure, on enhancing the safety and security on our schools. And we should."

The issue is just being discussed at the moment. Any decision would need to come to a board vote.

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com