Cost of protecting St. Johns County schools increases by $1M as salaries for armed guards rise

The St. Johns County School District is boosting its spending on school safety.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Johns County School District is boosting its spending on school safety.

A plan presented Tuesday morning to the school board calls for more than $1 million more than last year to go towards protecting schools in the fast-growing district which includes increasing pay for armed guards.

Senior Director for School Services Paul Abbatinozzi said the increases will cost the school district a total of around $4.7 million, but with help from the state, the district is only on the hook for about $1.9 million, or 70%. That’s a district budget increase of more than $668,000 when compared to last year.

All 43 schools in St. Johns County will have an armed guard on campus when the new school year starts this fall. Some high schools will even have two guards when available, Abbatinozzi said.

A plan proposed to the school board calls for:

  • 43 St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office deputies (plus 12 SJCSO leadership positions)
  • 32 Public Service Assistants
  • 3 St. Augustine Police Department officers

“Part of the increase, you’ll see this in our numbers that you looked at, was an increase in the salary cost of law enforcement,” Abbatinozzi said.

The average salary for full-time sheriff’s office employees in schools is going up from about $65,000 last year to $77,000 this year. The average cost of the three SAPD officers is also going up by more than $21,000.

A big change this year also involves Public Service Assistants (PSA), unarmed civilians that help with things like traffic control at schools. The district will now pay for those PSAs instead of the Sheriff’s Office which increases the district’s cost by more than $230,000.

“Those are part-time employees with the sheriff’s department...but we utilize a majority of their time,” Abbatinozzi said.

The plan will put the school district in compliance with laws passed in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland and comes as there are renewed school safety concerns around the country following the tragic school shooting in Uvalde.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said the increase in cost to the district is a result of increases in salary for deputies and the two new positions. The St. Augustine Police Department did not immediately respond when asked about the salary increases.

All of the proposals outlined Tuesday will still need approval from the school board.

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