Schools must do more with less to pay for students' safety



ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - With only days left in the school year, Pine Hills Elementary School students were locked down in May after a man in a nearby home forced deputies into a tense stand-off.

It ended without incident and with minimal disruption to the school day.

That's because Orange County schools work with staff on how to deal with emergency situations, but that training isn't free.

“This is something that the district pays the lion's share of. That’s correct,” said Rick Collins, CFO of Orange County Public Schools.

Since 2011, the state's "safe schools" funding has remained stagnant, Collins said.

The fund, which is divided across every school in the state, peaked in 2007 at $75 million, but fell to $64 million in the following years, where it has remained.

"Back then it was $31 per student; today it's just under $26 per student," Collins said.

The money is mainly used to provide staff training and school resource officers—law enforcement officers whose assigned patrol area is the school.

“The landscape has changed regarding school safety," said Douglas Tripp, head of Orange County's Safety and Security. "There has to be a larger investment by districts to ensure a safe environment."

That investment means districts pick up the tab for what the state won't pay for.

Orange County is in line to receive $4.5 million, not even half of the district's budget for "safety, security and environmental."      

Schools fill the gap by passing the cost along to local taxpayers or take money from other areas.