By Rachel Christian
The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office is now taking applications for school resource officers (SROs) in an effort to keep Osceola County students safer.
The agency is working alongside Kissimmee police, St. Cloud police and the Osceola County School District to implement 33 additional SROs by August. This would put two officers in every high school, as well as one in every elementary, middle and charter school.
Maj. Jacob Ruiz, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, said the agency will attempt to fill those positions with its deputies first before filling remaining spots with part-time SRO applicants.
The new hires would be more than just school security guards. Anyone interested in the position must have proper certification and at least 10 years of sworn, full-time law enforcement experience.
Applicants must also successfully pass a physical agility test, swim test, written examination, medical physical and drug screens.
“We wanted people with experience because we need to get them placed into schools quickly,” Ruiz said. “It usually takes a full year to get a new recruit ready to perform the job on their own, and we just don’t have that much time.”
In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act into law that, among other measures, requires at least one SRO in every elementary and middle school and two at every high school. It allocated $97 million to assist schools with hiring extra officers.
The bill was signed following a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day that left 17 students and staffers dead.
But the money coming down from the state may not be enough for all counties in Florida. Places like Clay and Mantatee counties have already discussed raising local taxes to fund the new school officers.
The salary posted on the Osceola County sheriff’s website for part-time SROs is $40,000 a year. It would cost $1.32 million to staff 33 SROs at that rate, not including benefits.
In Osceola County, the School District is set to receive $3.4 million from the state’s $97 million program budget.
According to Dana Schafer, public information officer for the School District, the district will use all the funding given by the state, and law enforcement agencies will contribute the rest.
But what about next school year?
The school safety law only appropriates money for the upcoming school year. Counties across Florida could be left holding the bag if the state legislature decides to cut funding to the program next year.
“I certainly hope that isn’t the case,” Ruiz said. “That would be a tremendous burden to taxpayers.”