It came a week after she approved a plan to spend $2 million of the district's contingency fund this year to tighten security in elementary schools.
On Friday afternoon Elia discussed the issue at Maestro's, the restaurant located inside the Straz Performing Arts Center complex in downtown Tampa at an event sponsored by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club.
Elia's proposal was only one of a package of measures the superintendent brought before the board last Tuesday at their first meeting since the tragedy at Sandy Hook. But it was the school security measure that dominated the headlines after the proposal received little support from board members. Several board members said they felt uncomfortable being placed in such an intense situation, even as the national conversation about guns and school safety continues in the wake of the horrific massacre.
At the board meeting, member Susan Valdes criticized Elia for holding a news conference to announce her proposals, but the superintendent said on Friday that it was her job to inform the public about what she was calling for. Elia also said she had not blindsided anybody, and had spoken with six of the seven board members in advance of the press announcement.
"We wanted to get this information out," Elia said.
Of the $3.7 million that it would cost annually to pay for security in the district's elementary schools, Elia acknowledged, "That’s a lot of money. Should we spend it this way? I think it’s a good question for all of us." She then added, somewhat ominously, "Our world changed on 9/11, and our world changed on Dec. 14."
On Wednesday, President Obama offered a list of ideas he wants to implement to improve the safety of Americans, especially those in schools. One idea he proposed is providing incentives for schools to hire school resource officers. Elia said she was speaking with Education Secretary Arne Duncan shortly after the president's announcement, and asked him what were the possibilities of getting access to such funds. She said that Duncan frankly didn't know how the money would be distributed — not yet anyhow.
And she bristled at the notion that her proposal was "knee-jerk," saying flatly that was not the case.
"It's a deterrent, it’s not a guarantee," she said of armed officers in the schools, noting that nothing was a surefire way to prevent another Newtown. "Neither is gun control a guarantee. Neither is putting money into helping people with mental illness. They're all factors … it’s my job to set up what a possible plan will be, and then work it though … so that’s where we really are."
Security officers have been in Hillsborough schools for awhile, working in 27 high schools and 48 middle schools in conjunction with the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department.
The Superintendent didn't seem perturbed that board members didn't approve her proposal, saying that it's important to know if funding might become available either through Washington or Tallahassee in the coming months. She said it would take six months for such a plan to be fully implemented.
When asked by a Tiger Bay member if any plan created in reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre could be construed as window dressing — a way to superficially address the issue without truly making the schools safe — Elia admitted that she couldn't be certain that any of her proposals would ultimately prevent a madman from committing mayhem in a county school. But she said it was her job to try.
"We have to decide where we want to be," she said. "I don't decide on that. The board does."
Undoubtedly these big decisions will need to be made by Elia and the seven board members, even though they never saw issues of this magnitude coming when they decided to get involved in the Hillsborough school system, the eighth largest in the nation.