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Duval County School Board gets school security status update

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County School Board was briefed Wednesday on the status of security personnel at each of the district's schools and efforts to reduce its $1.3 million bill from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Currently, schools have one of three types of security: a Duval County Schools Police officer, a school safety assistant or a JSO officer. All three are armed while on campus, but safety assistants don't interact with students.

In the academic year that just ended, Jacksonville police officers were on duty at 91 schools -- nearly half of Duval County's schools. The district needed JSO’s help to comply with a state law requiring trained, armed security personnel at every school. 

The district hopes to eventually reduce the number of JSO personnel it relies on by adding its own officers.

On Wednesday, the Duval County Public Schools superintendent spoke to News4Jax about several recent school district matters -- including the half-cent sales tax referendum and the school safety plan.

"If we wanted to add school safety officers to all of our schools, what would that cost look like? How long would it take to implement that process?" Superintendent Diana Greene said after Wednesday's meeting. "The conversation just was centered around, 1) How about we get started with school and have a plan in place, but 2) To share with the board the new option of hiring a security guard firm as an option."

WATCH: Superintendent gives update on school safety plan

For the 2018-19 school year, JSO charged the school district $17.50 an hour even though the average rate for an off-duty officer is $55 per hour. The School Board doesn’t yet know if it can get that same rate for the next year.

That will soon be determined in a conversation among school officials, the JSO and the mayor’s office. Greene said that no matter which option the board eventually chooses, there will always be someone armed at each Duval County school.

The superintendent also reacted to Tuesday's split decision by two City Council committees -- where the Finance Committee agreed to place a half-cent sales tax referendum on the November 2020 ballot and the and Rules Committee voted not to yet move the legislation forward.

"I was very frustrating, at the end of the day, to leave and not have an answer about where this issue lies with the City Council," Greene said. "It kind of leaves everything up in the air."

Greene said she remains hopeful that the referendum will make it onto the 2020 ballot. It’s unclear when the measure will be brought back up before the City Council.

Next week the board will go over Greene’s most recent Master Facilities Plan before taking an expected vote on it at its regular meeting in early July.

The final topic discussed at a board workshop Wednesday was where things stand with two schools that are closing. 

District leaders said a new change to a Florida law makes it harder for schools to leave the consistently low performing status. 

Before the change in the law, Greene said a school was considered low performing if it earned a grade of C or less for three years within a five year period 

With change, Greene said a school remains low performing if in at least three of those five they have not gained a grade of B or higher  

Lake Forest Elementary closed at the end of this school year. The school’s approximately 270 students next year will go to North Shore Elementary, a school which has consistently been at C or higher the last several years and isn’t even at 50 percent capacity, so it has room for the Lake Forest students. 

Northwestern Middle is set to close after the 2019-20 school year.

About 1,100 students are projected in that attendance zone for the year it’s planned to close and nearly half of those are rising sixth graders.

The district is already working with those rising sixth graders to reassign them to a new school. Seventh graders will receive scholarships for higher performing schools and eighth graders will move on to their high school as planned. 

Greene said the district is making sure all students feel secure with the changes.

“We are also providing behavior modification support, academic support, to ensure that even though the school will close at the end of the 19-20 school year, that students are prepared to go on to high school and those who will go to other middle schools,” Greene said.