WEST PALM BEACH — The Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and teachers dead inspired swift response from authorities, though to dismay of many, those measures included virtually everything except gun control. Indeed, Florida Governor Rick Scott went the other direction entirely, signing legislation to actually add guns to schools via the arming of teachers.
The Palm Beach County School Board, though, has elected not to play along.
The board has declined to participate in the controversial “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program” (named for the Stoneman Douglas coach slain in the attack), understanding that they would not be able to take advantage of any part of the $67 million allocated by the state to provide weapons training for teachers and staff by county sheriffs.
One school official, Andrew Watt, the district’s legislative affairs director, holds out some hope for being able to use the funds. Watt wants the state to permit schools to use money for other security purposes than actually arming teachers.
In addition to providing for armed teachers, the law provides $6 million to Palm Beach County to staff each school in the district with a police officer, and directs an additional $4.1 million to mental health care.
Of course, everything comes at a cost, and—as Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke noted—the various kneejerk legislative responses to the deadly shooting funnel available money away from potential salary increases for teachers, to say nothing of other school expenses.
“The Legislature did a little shell game there,” Burke explained. “It will make for a challenging budget year for us.”
Interestingly, the Palm Beach County School Board also approved plans for a consultant to review school security throughout the county, at a cost of $45,000. The chosen consultant is the Council of the Great City Schools, made of up 70 urban school districts. Their team will travel to and assess Palm Beach County schools through April 6th. Given the nearness of that date, recommendations should presumably be available soon.
In this, at least, Palm Beach County is playing ball. Under the new law, such studies are a requirement to gain access to $99 million allocated to making school buildings safer, rendering the $45,000 cost of the study a no-brainer.
All of this, and still no meaningful, common-sense gun control on the horizon.