Like public schools, Fla. faith-based schools grapple with security costs

WEST PALM BEACH – Like traditional public schools and charter schools — and other faith-based schools — many Florida Catholic schools are struggling to fund added security measures.

Catholic school leaders have received help from the church, but they say they still struggle to cover the costs of school resource officers and other enhancements.

In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach added a policeman on campus from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. in addition to a regular policeman who is on campus in the afternoons from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. That pushed daily security expenses to $500 per day.

Rev. David Carr, president of Cardinal Newman, said the additional security expenses will add a new strain to the school’s finances over a full 180-day school year.

“For the next school year that will mean $90,000 for security which is not included in next year’s budget,” he said. “We are concerned about funding for security.”

The struggle to fund additional security mirrors the struggles school boards around the state have faced as the figure out how to hire additional officers or armed guards. The Legislature mandated armed security officers at public schools and provided funding to help defray the cost. But private schools must respond to similar public concerns with their own funding sources.

Security measures for students go beyond officers. Cardinal Newman is one of the first Catholic schools in Palm Beach to conduct mental health training with the help of a grant from Palm Beach County school district. The school also has a trained Crisis Response Team that meets quarterly and later this year school officials will take part in “active shooter” training.

The Diocese of Palm Beach donated $1 million distributed proportionally to 17 schools to help fund the initial parts of its security plan. The schools are left with footing the rest of the bill.

“It is a challenge,” said Superintendent Gary Gelo of the Diocese of Palm Beach. “The schools have to fund any of the local projects they want to do. They all operate independently of the Diocese.”

Gelo said he had hoped the $1 million the Diocese put toward security would be matched by parent organizations or other donors.

He added another concern is there are not enough security officers to employ at every Catholic school.

“We have to use off-duty police officers and sheriff department individuals in that capacity,” he said. “There are not enough of them to go around.”

Vikki Delgado, principal at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School in Delray Beach, said she is also concerned about security costs. The school recently had its first security task force meeting.

The additional dollars for security may have to come from a tuition hike or fundraising within the parish, Delgado said.

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