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Estero leaders frustrated over issue of funding for school officers

Posted at 7:00 PM, Jun 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-20 19:00:52-04

Council members for the Village of Estero vented their frustrations Wednesday over the idea that the village is expected to pay an estimated $148,000 to pay for extra deputies at their schools. Council member Nicholas Batos believes the safety of their students should be considered a core function of the Lee County Sheriff's Office, paid for with county tax dollars.

"How anybody can say that the protection of our children is not a part of core function is unbelievable to me," Batos said the council's regular meeting Wednesday morning.

After February's tragic school shooting in Parkland, Governor Rick Scott signed a law requiring officers to be present at all Florida schools while they are in session - but the law doesn't say who pays for the extra officers.

In an email sent to Fox 4 Wednesday, Lee County manager Roger Desjarlais wrote: "The School Safety Act legislation does not require cities or counties to support a school resource officer program with dollars. Individual decisions can be made by jurisdictions to do it voluntarily and to partner with the school district to ensure the safety of our community's children."

Estero council members want the county and the Lee County School District to help them figure out just where the money to pay for their extra officers should come from - but they have their own ideas.

"Somebody will find the money to pay for these resources, and personally I think the county owes it to us," said council member Katy Errington.

But Estero's mayor Jim Boesch voiced another perspective.

"I think the school district should go to the legislature and say 'this is an unfunded mandate that we don't want,'" he said.

The cities of Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Sanibel have all agreed to help cover the costs of the extra officers. Those cities also have their own police departments, which could help staff their schools. 

The City of Bonita Springs and the Town of Fort Myers Beach - both of whom, like Estero, depend on the Lee County Sheriff's Office for policing - have also been wrestling with the idea of how to pay for the extra officers.