Coming off spring break, the shooting that took place on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Fla. is still fresh on the minds of the legislature, school board, teachers, and parents.
“I am committed to you and stand by you,” said Rep. Holly Raschein at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “I am not shy to ask for anything on your behalf.”
She recapped the legislative session that wrapped last week, saying that school safety is top priority. Senate Bill 7026 included gun control, Baker Act, and mental health provisions; implementing the policy is where financial issues in the county will start.
Superintendent Mark Porter said, “We will have to get creative with how we will allocate this funding, as issues of training and student mental wellness are also priorities for our district in relation to safety and security for all students and staff.”
Porter added that four sessions have been held with stakeholders including the FBI, local police, State Attorney, and mental health providers.
The bill mandates that student resource officers (SROs) need to be on every campus, although there were some questions on whether the district is responsible for charter schools.
Another issue the school faces is the lack of juvenile crisis intervention service in the Keys. The closest is in Miami, making it difficult for students who need help to seek it.
Stanley Switlik teacher and former police officer Tracy Zander said in regard to school safety that she is not a fan of metal detectors and would happily take the training to arm herself in her classroom considering her background. “Money would be better spent on a social worker,” she said. “We need to create a culture of love and support for the students.”
Parents Catherine Dunn and Allison Sayer reiterated sentiments made clear at the last meeting, that they want to see change happen sooner than later at the school regarding the safety of the children.
A Marathon mom, Abby Haddock, also gave an emotional account of her experience of a school shooting, saying she never wants her children’s friend’s families to have to feel that way. “There is a hallway no one even uses any more because of the memories of the shooting,” she said. “Let’s not let that happen in our schools.”
Raschein added that the mandates are steep and aggressive. The legislature cut $400 million from other programs to fund the safe schools allocations. Raschein is a mom of a kindergartner in the school district, and added that the new requirements are a burden but absolutely necessary. “I believe in my heart that it’s needed,” she said. Two hundred million of the allocation will be reoccurring.
The board discussed a millage increase to cover the funding shortfall for SROs and possibly counselors. “If we don’t find other funding for this, we will have to cut from other positions,” said board member John Dick, who along with the board, said he’d like to see this on the August or November ballot. He added the rate increase would be around $6 per $100,000 in home value.
In other school news:
- Kristen Condella, instructional materials coordinator, spoke about digital classroom plans that started in 2014. She discussed the use of iPads and Chromebooks for Monroe County students, sharing results of in-school and out-of-school uses of technology. Signon after school hours broke 100,000 in February, with 100 to 400 unique logins each day in non-school hours. The board moved to purchase an additional 730 Chromebooks. Students do not take them home, but after the hurricane were asked if they were needed at home, with no one taking them up on the offer. Porter said if any students need to sign them out for after school, the offer still stands.
- James Drake, executive director of finance and performance, did a follow-up of the preliminary findings of the operations audit. Eleven issues were brought the board’s attention, including school advisory councils adhering to the Sunshine Law, issues with construction project documentation, background screenings, disaster recovery plans, student social security numbers, and procedures for cash deposits. All of the items brought up have been rectified or are in the process of being rectified. The board also discussed using credit cards moving forward for events where cash is collected.