(Reuters) – Two weeks before a gunman fatally shot 17 people at a Florida high school, Bill Lee, the president of the state’s school administrators association, warned that Florida’s schools were vulnerable to just such an attack.
“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” he wrote in the Orlando Sentinel on Jan. 29, calling on legislators to increase school security spending after two January school shootings in other states. “Florida is one instance away from becoming the next Kentucky or Texas, and we must do something about it.”
Following last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Lee has renewed calls for more money to fund everything from mental health counseling to emergency lockdown systems. State lawmakers, facing pressure from angry students, have signaled they will boost security funding after failing to do so for years.
“I wish the words had not been so prophetic,” Lee said in an interview on Wednesday.
Florida’s Safe Schools program provides millions of dollars to more than 70 school districts for safety and security. Since 2002-03, however, the program’s funding has dropped 25 percent per student, even as the threat of mass shootings has risen.
The current budget includes $64.4 million for the eighth straight year, according to state figures. Before the shooting, Governor Rick Scott had proposed adding $10 million next year.
Some parents have expressed anger that security measures at the school were not more robust.
“Who do they have on campus? I think there’s only security person,” said Elana Cohn, 45, who has a child at the school. “That’s for a school with 3,200 students.”
School officials in Broward County, where Stoneman Douglas is located, did not respond to requests for comment on security and Safe Schools funding.
In many ways, Wednesday’s massacre highlighted the limits of school security measures – both physical, such as fencing and officers, and preventative, such as counseling.
Like many other schools, Stoneman Douglas has a single entry point requiring identification before anyone can enter the sprawling campus during school hours.
But as dismissal time nears each day, exterior gates are opened to allow students to leave, said Jerry Graziose, the district’s former head of school safety. That appears to be how the accused shooter, 19-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, got on campus without being stopped.
“At dismissal, unfortunately, you’ve got to open the gates to let everyone out,” Graziose said. “You’ve got 3,000 people.”
Some parents said there had to be a better solution.
“Security was not adequate,” said Angela Burrafato, 51, who has one child at the school. “We know we can get around the single-point front door entrance, and it’s a problem.”
Safe Schools funding helps districts pay for school resource officers, or SROs, sworn law enforcement personnel assigned to schools from local police departments.
Authorities have said the SRO at Stoneman Douglas from the sheriff’s office did not engage with Cruz during the attack. It is not clear whether he was elsewhere on campus, which includes several buildings, or away from the school entirely.
State data shows Broward County had 160 SROs in 2016, the latest year available, including 39 for the district’s 30 high schools. That is comparable to or greater than the number in other large districts.
Some staffers hold a dual role as security specialists or campus monitors. They are unarmed but have some training, Graziose said. One such employee at Stoneman Douglas, Aaron Feis, was shot to death while sheltering students.
Jared Moskowitz, a Democratic Florida state representative and Stoneman Douglas graduate, said one officer was not enough.
“It’s like a mini-college,” he said. “If you’re on one side of campus, it takes minutes to get to the other side, and this whole thing was over in five minutes.”
On Wednesday, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters some deputies would begin carrying single-shot rifles on school grounds.
U.S. President Donald Trump suggested on Wednesday during a meeting with surviving students that arming teachers and other staff could help prevent school massacres.
INTERVENTION, NOT SUSPENSION
Broward County received nearly $6 million this academic year from the Safe Schools program. While districts statewide spend more than 80 percent of those funds on SROs, Broward is a notable exception, devoting less than half of its safe school money to officers, although it may use local funds to help pay for SROs.
Instead, the district has dedicated millions of safe school dollars on an intervention program that diverts students who would otherwise be sent home on suspension to off-campus centers, where teachers, counselors and social workers are assigned.
The effort earned Broward national attention as a leader in alternative discipline, a way of disrupting the “school-to-prison pipeline” by giving troubled children a chance to stay in school.
It was not clear whether Cruz, who had a history of infractions before his 2017 expulsion from Stoneman Douglas, benefited from that program. The Washington Post reported he was sent to in-school suspension as well as off campus, citing school records.
Since the shooting, school administrators across the country have said more counseling is needed to intervene when students have emotional problems.
But Lee, the school administrators association president, acknowledged there was no foolproof way of stopping a determined gunman without turning school campuses into something akin to military installations.
“I really don’t know how you prevent someone who is bent on destruction from carrying it out to some degree,” he said. “We want to be an education system. We don’t want to be a mini-prison.”
Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Parkland, Fla., Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney