County, school board discuss funding school officers

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 4/25/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Despite a gesture of cooperation and a desire to make it work, the Clay County School Board and Board of County Commissioners couldn’t come to an agreement on how to place a …

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County, school board discuss funding school officers

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Despite a gesture of cooperation and a desire to make it work, the Clay County School Board and Board of County Commissioners couldn’t come to an agreement on how to place a school resource officer in every Clay County school.

At an April 18 workshop in BCC chambers, both boards met with Sheriff Darryl Daniels to discuss the logistics and how to fund an officer for every school. While all parties said they have wanted resource officers for a while, it wasn’t until the Parkland shooting took place that putting the idea into action came about. And still, after over two hours of discussion, the idea is only a little closer to coming to fruition than it was before the workshop.

“The saddest part to this meeting today is when the state passed this law and mandated that these resource officers be in every school, it breaks my heart that they didn’t put the money with it for this mandate,” said Carol Studdard, School Board chairman.

Shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the Florida Legislature passed a bill to fund more school resource officers and to arm school staff. A bill provided $67 million for arming staff as marshals and another $97 million provided funding more school resource officers. This money also comes with a mandate as part of the bill declaring that by the start of the 2018-19 school year, every school must have an SRO or staff marshal on its campus. Oddly, there is no mention of a punishment for a district that fails to do this. Still, both the BCC, CCSO and school board are feeling the pressure.

“We don’t know how we will pay for this but I guess we can say we’ll pay for it,” school board member Betsy Condon said. “We’re kind of in a quandary because we have to put them in for the 18-19 school year but the money isn’t there.”

While the workshop was set up to allow an open forum of discussion between the school board and the BCC, Daniels explained the cost of placing an SRO in every school.

“The county is currently paying $883,023 and the school [district] pays $530,500 which makes the entire budget $1.4 million,” Daniels said. “The projected cost to staff up school resource officers in every school is $4.5 million.”

This $4.5 million comes from an estimated cost of $115,000 per school resource officer. That number includes officer salary, benefits, a fully-outfitted uniform, proper equipment and a vehicle. With 44 Clay County schools, 44 SROs will be needed and, according to Daniels, accompanying those 44 SROs is six relief officers, one detective and one trainer.

The projected cost of $4.5 million drew audible surprise from almost every governmental member on the dais.

“We have $1.5 million and that’s it,” Studdard said. “We don't have anymore.”

The school board came to the workshop hoping to receive some financial assistance from the BCC but the BCC is just as strapped as the school board is, at least according to county commissioner Diane Hutchings.

“We do not have this amount of money just laying around,” Hutchings said.

While the BCC doesn’t have money to just give to the school board, they did offer up an interlocal agreement that would see the BCC essentially loan money to the school board, with an agreement that the borrowed amount is paid back in a designated amount of time. However, it was unclear whether the agreement would include interest. Nobody on the school board really bit at this idea.

Following the suggestion of an interlocal agreement from BCC Chairman Gavin Rollins, Hutchings suggested the school board set up a designated funding stream.

“The [BCC] is not responsible for the school board function and this is clearly a school board function,” said Hutchings, who also serves as board president of St. Johns Classical Academy, a charter school that is paid for by Clay County tax dollars. “We’ve been participating up until this point but I would rather participate by asking you all to get a dedicated funding source through ad valorem and we’ll encourage and support that.

“Then, you know the money is there, there’s no more pointing at who is going to pay for it this year because it’s taken care of and I cannot imagine the people of Clay County not supporting that,” Hutchings said.

While most of the school board agreed that a dedicated funding stream was a great objective for the board to achieve, School Board member Janice Kerekes still found herself disappointed with the BCC.

“It sounds to me like we’re saying we are going to work together but your suggestion is a loan, and your suggestion is an ad valorem tax, and we’re not really working together. Working together would mean the school district searches for whatever additional funds they find and the county commission comes up with funds that they can find and the sheriff maybe finds a couple of positions that you could maybe eliminate, and that’s working together and that’s a compromise,” Kerekes said. “It’s shameful that we’re not all willing to work together.”

Rollins, who also teaches Social Studies at Oakleaf High School, interrupted Kerekes by asking County Attorney Courtney Grimm to come up to the podium where he then asked her whose responsibility it was to pay for SROs. Grimm explained that the law indicates the responsibility is solely that of the school board’s.

Because this meeting was simply a workshop, neither the BCC or the school board could take official action, despite clear indications from all bodies that action must be made soon if they are to meet the Legislative mandate to have SROs in every school at the start of the new school year. Instead, the school board opted to have a special meeting the following Monday, on April 23, where they can take official action and discuss funding options.

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