Polk sheriff, schools superintendent at an impasse on school safety approach

By Stephanie Claytor, Spectrum Bay News 9 Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, March 08, 2018, 11:10 AM EST

Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd both agree there needs to be a multi-layered approach to improving school campus security, but they disagree on some aspects of how to go about it.

  • Polk sheriff, schools superintendent at impasse on school safety
  • Grady Judd, Jacqueline Byrd disagree on school safety approach
  • Main disagreement is on arming teachers, staff on campus

Their main disagreement is allowing teachers and staff to be trained to carry concealed guns on campus.

"I have also weighed carefully the proposition of arming teachers and as superintendent of the seventh largest school district in the state, I want to be very clear on where I stand. This is absolutely not the answer,” said Byrd, during a recorded video posted to the district’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

She said she doesn't support arming school staff members either.  It's not what Judd wanted to hear.

"It's up to the school board. It's their responsibility to keep the children safe on the campus. It's my responsibility to help them. I can only do what they want me to do on campus,” said Judd.

Judd is the founder of the Sentinel program, which currently trains select college professors at Webber International University and Southeastern University to conceal carry guns on campuses. Judd has been pushing the legislature to allow for the program to happen in all schools.

Instead, Byrd wants one school resource officer at each school, and more on high school campuses. She said the district would need an additional five million dollars a year to make that happen.

"I can't do it without adequate funding from the state,” said Byrd.

Sheriff Judd said even that amount isn't enough.

"That is not even close to being sufficient,” Judd said. “The cost is staggering.”

According to Judd, it would cost between $100,000 to $120,000 to provide a first year law enforcement officer. That includes the officer’s salary, benefit package, equipment, training, and recruitment.

The district has more than 150 schools, and only 45 school resource officers.

It would need at least 100 more.

In comparison, Judd said his sentinel program costs between $10,000 to $15,000 total to train five teachers, professors, or staff during the first year.

Superintendent Byrd said she'd like more mental health counselors and enhanced security features such as surveillance cameras, fences, and metal detectors.

She said she needed more funding for that as well.

The Polk County School Board will discuss how to improve school safety during its work session on March 13, around 2 p.m. Public comment will be heard on the topic during the school board meeting that evening. 

Judd said he planned to present his recommendations and cost analysis. Both meetings will take place at the Polk County Public Schools Administrative Offices, located at 1915 S. Floral Avenue in Bartow, Florida.