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Seven Escambia County schools could lose security to budget cuts

Seven Escambia County schools could lose security to budget cuts

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan says school resource officers might be one of the first casualties if his budget is not approved.

Bellview Middle School is one of seven schools that Sheriff Morgan said could be without one of his officers on campus this fall.

For years, law enforcement and school officials have been united in the idea that school resource officers keep students safe, but they are now struggling with options to keep them there.

"I need to put officers on the street, so tonight, it is my sad duty to inform the school board that the SRO program is also on that list for reduction and or elimination," Sheriff Morgan said.

In an Escambia County School Board meeting, Sheriff Morgan and Senior Commander Dale Tharp told school board members he has identified seven schools in the district -- ones that receive the least amount of calls -- where officers could be eliminated.

"Ernest Ward Middle School, North View High School, Ransom Middle School, West Florida High School, Bailey Middle School, Ferry Pass Middle School, Bellview Middle School," Tharp said to school board members.

Sheriff Morgan says his priority has to be keeping officers in high crime areas across Escambia County.

"This could reach critical mass as to where we cannot fill officers at your school," Morgan said.

Jeff Bergosh, Vice-Chairman of the Escambia County Board of Commissioners, said they can't afford the salary increase for deputies at this time because the county is facing a $9 million shortfall.

"The sheriff has requested an 8 percent increase over what he got last year and we just can't get there," Bergosh said.

Sheriff David Morgan says the cuts at the schools could happen soon as October of this year, if the budget he submitted is not approved.

"Our pay scale as it compares to like counties throughout the state of Florida has been diminished year after year after year," Morgan stated.

Bergosh remains hopeful a solution will come before October.

"I hope that it doesn't come to the resource officers being pulled, as a tenor school board member prior to this job I know how important those officers are," Bergosh explained.

The sheriff is asking for a nearly $60 million budget, which is $3.3 million more than last year.

Morgan suggests commissioners look at options like property taxes where the commission can make increases to ensure services continue.

Representatives from the Escambia County School District tell Channel 3 News they plan to meet with the sheriff about possible contingencies in the coming week.

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