Manatee County schools commits officers to campuses

- Bradenton police, Manatee County deputies and Palmetto police have been fixtures on school campuses in Manatee County for the last two weeks following the deadly school shooting in Parkland. 

Starting Monday of next week, officers in schools will become permanent fixtures in public schools within Manatee County.

The district announced Friday that it will hire 34 additional school resource officers, ensuring that every elementary and middle school in the county will have at least one officer on campus, while high schools will have two. 

Manatee County Sheriff's Office will supply 26 total deputies within the unincorporated parts of the county: 22 will be in elementary schools with four additional deputies for high schools. Middle schools already have one deputy per campus.

The eight additional school resource officers will be for schools within the city limits of Bradenton and Palmetto.

Calls for heightened school safety measures have intensified in the wake of the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 people. The district says safety is a top priority, but there is of course a budget to consider. 

The Manatee School Board will discuss Tuesday evening just how they're going to fund the additional resource officers. The cost of these officers could cost an estimated $380,000. The board will need to figure out ways to stretch their budget to cover the unanticipated costs. Tax payers could help them out though.

On March 20, residents of both Manatee and Sarasota counties will vote in a special referendum on whether or not to increase property taxes in order to support their schools. If approved, property taxes would increase by a dollar for every thousand dollars of taxable assessed value on a home. Sarasota has had the tax in place since 2002 and has renewed it every year since. The school tax would be a first for Manatee County.

Initially, Manatee officials said they hoped to use the additional funds to pay their teachers more. Manatee Superintendent of Schools Diana Greene says the district is at a crisis point where they simply can't attract enough teachers because they can't offer competitive salaries. Earlier this month, Greene said the district was still working to fill 87 instructional vacancies. 

Greene says the teacher shortage is largely the result of low salaries. In a guest column in the Herald Tribune this month, Greene highlighted the disparity between teacher salaries in her district and those in neighboring districts. According to Greene, the average teacher salary in Sarasota County is nearly $10,000 higher, while the average Pinellas County teacher makes $2,000 more than in Manatee County where teachers make an average of $45,800 per year.

The board will need to figure out how to balance the district's commitment to adding school resource officers with its need to offer competitive salaries in order to attract and retain teachers. The arduous process will begin tonight and could be helped on March 20, if taxpayers are on board. 

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