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Gainesville city commission starts process to cut school resource officer funding from city budget

(WCJB)
Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 11:49 PM EDT
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Gainesville city commissioners voted to start negotiations with Alachua County Public Schools that would result in the city no longer providing funding for the school resource officer program. The goal of those negotiations would be to hand 100% of funding responsibility back to the school district, for schools within Gainesville city limits.

The Alachua County school district might have to foot a nearly million dollar bill for those school resource officers.

Regarding the city money currently being spent on school resource officers, or SRO's, Gainesville mayor Lauren Poe said, "I don't think it helps us accomplish what we're trying to accomplish."

City Commissioner Gail Johnson said, "There's a lot that we can do with that $900,000 in this year's budget and I'd like to see that happen."

Having at least one SRO in a school is a state mandate that dates back to 2018, following the Parkland mass shooting. The fiscal year (FY) 2021 city budget has $904,228 to Gainesville police officers in the program.

Johnson added, "I think the school board should pay 100 percent for the school resource officers and then we can redirect those funds into programs that we currently have on the table and that we know that we can scale up relatively soon for initiatives that the community wants."

The motion was approved 4 to 3, with commissioners Harvey Ward, David Arreola, and Gigi Simmons in dissent. For Ward, freeing up funds for the city by handing the cost of school resource officers back to Alachua County Public Schools does not come without consequence.

Ward said, "The question is one of how much control do we want over that armed officer in public schools within city limits and I want the Gainesville city commission to be able to direct those officers."

The total cost of school resource officers is more than $2.1 million; the school district covers $1.2 million of that amount. Alachua County public schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson said, "and we pay 60,000 per officer, per year."

For the school district, having Gainesville police in schools means more than a dollar amount. Jackie added, "The goal was not only to provide school safety and security but also so those law enforcement officers can build relationships with those students at those schools. Relationships that would pay off in the long term so when t those kids got older they got a better sense of the role of law enforcement."

Nonetheless, city staff will start negotiations with the school district to hand off the SRO bill.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story we reported that Gainesville was dropping its portion of the funding for next year, shifting 100% of SRO funding responsibility back to ACPS for FY 2021.

There has been no timeline set for that transfer of funding responsibility, as city commissioners just directed staff to open negotiations on Thursday.