Wellington’s Public Safety Committee and Education Committee held a joint meeting on Wednesday, April 24 at the Wellington Community Center with an agenda focused on school safety.
Speakers at the meeting were Palm Beach County School District Chief of Police Frank Kitzerow, Palm Beach County School District Chief Operating Officer Wanda Paul and School Board Member Marcia Andrews. They presented and discussed the positive safety efforts that have been implemented over the last year.
School safety became a major focus in Palm Beach County and across Florida after the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Then, last August, two people were shot near a pre-season football game at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington in an incident that did not involve students. However, the incident brought fear to the community knowing that any hometown can be vulnerable.
The focus of the two Wellington committees is to make sure that Wellington remains a safe haven for all children, particularly at local schools.
Kitzerow has been in his position for nine months. He spent his early law enforcement career in Fairfax County, Va. He commanded task forces when the D.C. Sniper caused fear in the Washington, D.C. area. He was also police chief in Jupiter for 13 years.
“The reason I decided to jump into this position is, obviously, I cannot think of anything more important than protecting our children,” he said. “It’s a wildly important mission, and I really felt drawn to it. I get the opportunity every single day to work with some amazing people like principals, the school board and staff.”
Kitzerow continued by giving details about the school district he oversees.
“There are 187 schools and 197,000 students, 23,000 employees spread out over 2,300 square miles,” he said. “There are 146 different languages spoken in our school system. Every community and school has its own personality. When we talk about security, the one thing that is important is there is never one size fits all. This is the 10th-largest school district in the nation. Ultimately, if I do my job right, what I will have left for the community is that the school police department is going to set the benchmark for school-based policing in the United States.”
Kitzerow noted that his department is a full-service law enforcement agency.
“Everything that the sheriff’s department does, or a local municipality does, we do,” he said. “As a local police chief in a town versus this job that I have now, there is always competing interests like school safety, the safety in places of worship and traffic. What is remarkable about this job is that we have one mission and one mission only — to protect our children, our faculty and staff so that we can provide a safe environment for our kids to have an education and a future.”
Paul’s presentation focused on the one-cent sales surtax approved in 2016, which provides money for school improvements, many of which are safety-related.
The surtax allows for a 7 percent sales tax on most purchases in the county, as opposed to the standard state sales tax of 6 percent. The extra penny is collected on every dollar spent by both residents and visitors who purchase goods in the county.
Paul is a native Texan who has worked for the school district since 2017. With beginnings as a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, she now oversees the departments of Building Code Services, Diversity in Business Practices, Environmental and Conservation Services, Facilities Services, Facilities Construction and Planning, and Intergovernmental Relations for the school district. She manages the money from the sales surtax referendum and more than 440 employees within her division.
“Thank you so much for your continued support,” she told the committee members. “I have been here for two years, and the community of Wellington has been phenomenal. Thank you for the support as we try to make our schools more secure. I have spoken to many people in detail in the Wellington community. At the end of the day, we will be the leader in the state in terms of what we do for our schools in regard to security. We don’t want any child to feel unsafe when they go to school. We don’t want any parent to worry about their child when they are at school. We will continue to put children first.”
The sales surtax in Palm Beach County is expected to raise $2.7 billion during its 10-year lifespan. New Horizons Elementary School is just one Wellington school getting funding for new exterior doors, gutters and downspouts, windows and perimeter fencing. Wellington Landings Middle School is earmarked for major upgrades at a cost of $14.5 million for classroom furniture, an intercom sound system, gym floor refinishing, new lockers, bathroom replacements, new plumbing to the water and sewer lines as well as water fountains, just to name a few projects.
Andrews thanked the committee members for their focus on school safety.
“The school board is working with our state legislators and federal support to get additional funding for our schools,” she said. “When we look at a central command system, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. The principals probably recognize this, too.”
She asked the two committees of local volunteers to get involved in that mission.
“I would like to see there be a quasi-education legislative group from your education committee so that you could work with Palm Beach County School District lobbyists,” Andrews said. “I have a small group from the education board. We could meet with you right before the [legislative] session and during the session, because it’s a moving target. We have a bill that is changing right before our eyes every single day. We need a few of you to work with the school district. I think that would be fabulous. A few of you would be helpful to me to keep our children safe.”