School board looks at forming police department

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 1/30/19

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – As budget planning discussions begin for the 2019-20 school year, the Clay County School District is preparing for a potential change in the way it handles and funds school …

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School board looks at forming police department

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – As budget planning discussions begin for the 2019-20 school year, the Clay County School District is preparing for a potential change in the way it handles and funds school security.

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, it was mandated across Florida that every school must have at least one officer of sorts present on the grounds. This officer could be hired private security, police officers or guardians, which are citizens trained for the position. Clay County became one of the first counties in the state to get an officer in every single school and they did so through a mixed use of local law enforcement agencies and guardians.

“The board directed me to give them a number of options so they can really determine what’s the best for this organization and I look for their lead to give me direction so I can look to begin to put the puzzle pieces in place and make sure that we have the right articulation agreements and personnel in order to make this happen for the community,” said Clay County School District Superintendent Addison Davis.

Davis said he is happy and grateful for the partnerships the district has had with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, the Green Cove Springs Police Department and the Orange Park Police Department, but that it is the will of the board to explore other options.

During the Jan. 29 school board workshop, the board indicated an interest in two of five different options presented that day.

Option B sees the board maintaining and extending current interlocal agreements with GCSPD and OPPD. Currently, officers from GCSPD serve as resource officers for Charles E. Bennett Elementary and Green Cove Springs Junior High. The resource officers at Grove Park Elementary, Orange Park Elementary and Orange Park Junior High are officers from OPPD. The resource officers at other schools are made up of CCSO officers and guardians trained by CCSO.

Option B would allow the interlocal agreement with CCSO to expire. As a result, the district would have to work with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to set up what would basically be a Clay County School District Police Department. This means that the district would need to hire a police chief, a lieutenant, a training lieutenant, four sergeants, 36 police officers, three relief officers and one detective. The district would also need to purchase vehicles, badges, weapons, uniforms and more.

Between those costs and start-up costs, Option B would cost the district roughly $6.1 million in year one and roughly $4.2 in year two. The reason year one is more expensive is because it comes with initial capital costs that aren’t present in the cost for year two. According to school board chairwoman Carol Studdard, while these costs are high, the recent millage increase would make these costs affordable.

“We got the millage passed,” Studdard said. “‘What do our [constituents] expect us to do?’ They want, and we want, to see that money put an officer in every school.”

School board members Janice Kerekes and Tina Bullock were in favor of Option B.

The other option that the school board took interest in was Option D, which called for renewing existing interlocal agreements with CCSO, GCSPD and OPPD. This option would see the district hire more school resource officers to replace guardians currently employed in schools. These guardians wouldn’t necessarily be let go of, though. Instead, this option sees those guardians moving into a supportive role to the School Resource Officers.

Like Option B, though, Option D calls for the district to file with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create its own law enforcement agency.

Option D would cost roughly $6.8 million in year one with a cost of $5.4 million in year two.

School board members Ashley Gilhousen and Mary Bolla were in favor of Option D. Studdard didn’t declare which option she favored.

Both options, despite their differences, point toward a future where the Clay County School District has its own police department that handles school security.

“Every option does lend to hire a police chief and to start to file the paperwork [to create a law enforcement agency] just in case there ever arises a need to do so,” Davis said. “And then that individual can really be our conduit whether it be leading the work between us and the sheriff’s department, us and Green Cove or us and Orange Park, and it would allow us to really have certificated personnel on site to continue the beautiful partnerships we currently have with the single goal of protecting our kids.”

Gilhousen, who said she favors Option D, said she likens Option B to ripping off a band aid and that doing so isn’t necessarily something she wants to do. While the board differed on this analogy, all five women agreed that this discussion should take place before the public, with all five options presented for further talks.

This discussion will take place at the next regular school board meeting on Feb. 7, at 6 p.m. in the Teacher Inservice Center located on the campus of Fleming Island High.

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