Posted: 10:57 p.m. Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw this week rejected the school district’s request that he provide a rotating team of deputies to do overtime patrols at 50 public elementary schools, saying he can’t spare the officers.

Instead, Bradshaw offered to hire and provide 50 full-time deputies for school patrols for one year, at an estimated $7 million cost.

“From the beginning of the conversations… we made it abundantly clear that we CAN NOT provide a large number of deputies on an overtime basis,” Bradshaw wrote to the district Monday in a memo obtained by The Palm Beach Post.

“The reason behind this constraint,” Bradshaw wrote, “is the Sheriff’s Office has an enormous commitment to services above and beyond the normal calls for service.”

Among those commitments: providing extra security for President Trump during his frequent visits to Palm Beach during the winter.

The offer is the latest development in weeks-long negotiations as the school district grapples with how to comply with a new state law, passed after the Parkland school shooting in February, that requires an armed officer at every public school by August.

The school district has received tentative support from 11 city police departments to patrol 47 elementary schools within their city limits. District officials are hoping that the sheriff’s office will agree to cover another 45 to 50 elementary schools.

The sheriff’s latest offer is likely to face skepticism from the school district, which is in the process of hiring its own officers and hopes to taper down its use of cops from other agencies during the next school year.

The sheriff’s office’s proposal appears to require hiring extra deputies, putting the county’s largest law enforcement agency in direct competition with the school district to recruit officers interested in working in school settings.

That could put the school district, which pays its officers a lower base salary, at a hiring disadvantage.

Bradshaw’s proposal would require the district to pay for the deputies for a complete year, a condition that could force the district to delay hiring its own officers or be forced to pay for more officers than it needs.

“We want to build our police force as quickly as possible,” said Amity Chandler, the school district’s chief of staff.

Under the sheriff’s proposal, “we’d have to very carefully pace our hiring so we’re not overstaffed.”

She added, though, that “we’re looking at all options”

Underlying the negotiations is a belief by both sides that they are the best outfit to safeguard the county’s public schools.

The district prides itself on having operated its own police department for decades, while the sheriff’s office argues its deputies are better trained, better paid and better equipped to keep campuses safe amid rising concerns about school shootings.

In an interview last weel, Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy rejected outsourcing school patrols to the sheriff’s office, saying it would be too costly.

But the school police officers’ union has cheered the proposal, which would likely result in higher salaries for school resource officers.

(Though higher-paid, sheriff’s deputies work throughout the year, while school police officers have long summer breaks, along with shorter winter and spring breaks.)

In his memo, Bradshaw said that since the Parkland massacre his office has aided the school district with extra patrols, mental health services and a cell phone application for students to report troubling behavior, one that he called “the most innovative in the state.”

“My commitment to you and the district is to do all we can to protect our children and provide a safe environment at schools for them and district personnel,” he wrote.