Sarasota sheriff helps secure schools for new year

Sheriff Tom Knight and the Sarasota County School District are working together to keep students safe. 

The school district must follow the new state law when it comes to protecting students. 

Board members have decided to move forward with a one-year contract with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office to secure 11 school resource officers; 10 deputies for middle and high schools and one for Emma E. Booker Elementary.

The district will cover 80 percent of the costs and the sheriff's office 20 percent. The total comes to $1.25 million for the year. 

"If something gets hung up before kick off in August, trust me we are going to have a deputy there until you have things sorted out," said Sheriff Knight. 

The district is also working to assemble its own police force. It plans to have the force protect all schools within two years. 

"We are not here to make you unsuccessful. We are here to make you as successful as you can be," said Sheriff Knight. 

When Sheriff Tom Knight offered his agency's services for the county's 21 elementary schools, Superintendent Dr.Todd Bowden said, 'no, thank you.'

"We will be looking for solutions that allow us to buy some time, but we are not ready to enter into contracts," he said. 

He believes the school police force will be up and ready to protect the district's elementary schools by August 13. 

He's hired a chief, three sergeants and offered jobs to 19 potential officers. 

Fifteen have already accepted. If they all work out he only needs to hire an additional five officers. 

"The pool of officers that we have assembled is very senior law enforcement officers," said Dr.Bowden. 

Superintendent Bowden plans to begin their training by mid-July. He admits all of their background checks are not yet finished.

"We may allow them to begin training. We anticipate the great majority of background checks may be complete, but nobody is going on a campus until we've checked every box," said Dr.Bowden. 

It's a concern that weighs on the mind of board member Bridget Ziegler. 

"I think it's still aggressive," she said. 

She believes the sheriff's office may be called upon in August to help fill the gap. 

"It's no question that we are going to be no question that we are going to be working and reliant on our law enforcement partners," she said.