65 Duval County school guards could be cut

Number of school resource officers not expected to change


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Next year some Duval County schools may not have the security guards they have now.

They were added not long after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in December 2012. But now the district says financial issues means it has to make hard choices.

A proposal would reduce the number of security guards from 243 to 178. That's 65 fewer guards.

Right now there are 53 school resource officers for Duval County Public Schools. That is not expected to change.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district is projected to lose $17 million because of loss of enrollment to charter schools and millions more because grants are expiring.

He said cutting some security officers would save more than $2 million, but it means some elementary schools would likely not have a security officer at all.

Laverne Millan's grandson attends Parkwood Heights Elementary School, where her other grandchild and four children also attended. Millan said the school overall is safe.

"I like the way they put the fence up on the other side," she said. "It makes you feel better because now no one can go through because that gate stays locked all day."

A security guard added last year only made her feel more secure, but now that guard could be gone next year.

The district will use data like school size, suspensions, violent incidents on campus and area crime rates to strategically place the 178 remaining security guards.

"Going into next year we may see some middle schools and high schools with even more security guards than they had last year, but it's likely elementary schools that have had very few incidents or neighborhoods where there's very little crime, those schools may not have a security guard," Vitti said.

He said school resource officers will be funded at the same level they were last year. Every K-8, middle and high school will have a full-time police officer at the school, and they will continue to go to elementary schools in the neighborhood throughout the day as well.

For grandparent Debby's Raines it's not enough.

"To me, I believe they should do it, I mean, you know, 24/7 the whole school, not just dropping by, no," Raines said. "Because anything can happen. Anything."

While that is a possibility, Vitti said the district has also put effort into training and preparing faculty and staff for critical incidents.

"We have practiced code reds and code yellows," Vitti said. "We've put in a safety plan now for a year and a half, so I think schools are better prepared than they have been before, and many of these schools previously did not have a security guard."

The budget still needs approval from the school board. Vitti said security guards could go back in the budget if there's something unforeseen, like higher tax property revenue than expected, but he doesn't see it changing.

As for why security guards are being cut and cuts are not being made in other areas, Vitti said he believes parents want to see money used in the classroom. He said many times districts will cut art, music and technology programs to keep positions, but he didn't want to do that with this budget.