Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly’s plan to have a deputy in every school will cost $1.8 million, more than doubling current costs, and require seven new sheriff’s deputies, according to a plan the sheriff and superintendent Jim Tager are currently negotiating. The sheriff’s school deputy program will grow from six deputies and supervisors to 15.
The negotiations are still ongoing and neither side is calling the deal complete. But both sides agree on the major outlines—dollar figures, required personnel and all deputies being on duty by August, when the new school year begins.
Officials plan to have at least one deputy in every school—and two at each of the high schools. They don’t actually have a choice: the new safe-schools law the Legislature just passed and the governor signed actually makes it a requirement for districts to have an armed presence at every public school, with only private schools exempt. That armed presence may either be a school resource deputy or officer, an armed marshal, or an armed faculty member or service employee (but not a teacher). Staly said Imagine School at Town Center is working with its board on a plan to have a deputy there (the school has nearly 1,000 students), while Palm Harbor, a much smaller school, is leaning toward arming one of its faculty members.
Both the school district and the sheriff are in agreement that the cost should be shared 50-50. “That’s generally what’s occurring around the state,” Staly said. But the definition of that 50-50 is still in question as the district seeks to refine what precisely goes into the assumable cost of a school resource deputy—and the district is not at the moment prepared to pay $900,000.
All the figures are substantial increases from the current school-resource deputy bill of $741,000, of which the district is paying $283,000 (as it has been for almost a decade: the state allocation had not changed for that long, according to district Finance Chief Tom Tant), Palm Coast government paying $100,000, and the sheriff’s office paying the rest, with money allocated by the county commission.
The Flagler County School district is going to receive around $850,000, Tant and Tager said in separate interviews today, of which it is required to give $50,000 to Imagine School at Town Center and to Palm Harbor Academy, the two charter schools, for their safe-school allocations. That leaves $800,000 for the district’s share—clearly not enough by any measure to comply with the state mandate of a deputy in every school.
The Parkland school massacre recasts security budgets across several agencies.
“We do not plan to go outside of our safe school dollars on this contract,” Tager said, though he suggested the district could supplement the amount with grants, but not before January 2019.
If Palm Coast were to still pay for a school resource officer, that would almost close the gap between the two sides. But Staly said Palm Coast’s share will no longer be for a school resource officer. That $100,000 will go toward one additional patrol deputy for Palm Coast’s streets. “To me it’s the better way to go,” Staly said. “It’s a clear delineation of the responsibilities and the liabilities.”
But that means the sheriff and the school district must make up the difference.
The current plan on the table has the sheriff’s share for school resource deputies increasing from $358,000 to $900,000, a $542,000 increase that the county commission will have to agree to provide in its next budget, starting in September 2018. (The sheriff is already paving the way: he’s deputized as “honorary deputies” some of the commissioners, an early sweetener for budget season.) Politically, the commission will find it very difficult not to comply with the request, not just because of the post-Parkland massacre climate and the state mandate, half-unfunded though it may be, but because it faces a sheriff whose popularity and visibility currently and easily outmatches that of every commissioner, two of whom face uncertain re-election.
Earlier this week Staly spoke by phone from a conference of sheriffs he was attending in Ocala. The conference was focused on school safety. Many sheriffs spoke about their experiences, some of them, Staly said, describing far more difficult and strained relations between law enforcement and school districts as they try to make the numbers work. In Pinellas County for example, the sheriff is looking to hire 150 additional deputies to meet the safe-schools requirement. The magnitude of the mandate has created tensions there—but tensions that have been non-existent in Flagler, Staly says.
Nevertheless the contract has a distance to go before making it to the school board for approval. “Until we’ve ratified it is still under negotiations,” School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker said Friday. “I’m not sure all the details have been hashed out yet but I do feel the cooperation between the school district and the sheriff has been great. For us it all depends on what safety dollars are there.”
Even though both sides take it as a given that all deputies will be in place by August, there’s more urgency on the sheriff’s side to have the plan in place and a precise number of new deputies worked out because he must hire them in May, early enough for them to go through the required training before they are deployed. Further, Staly said, “I’m not going to put rookies in schools, that’s a recipe for disaster.” Rather, he will move senior deputies who are interested in shifting to school assignments, and “backfill” the ranks with new recruits. “It’s a very, very tight timeframe, we’ve all been talking about that.”
There’s another issue: paying for the new recruits starting in May, though the sheriff’s current budget runs through the end of August and is spoken for, having been set last September. That leaves four months without the necessary dollars. Some dollars will flow from the school district starting after July 1, as that’s when schools’ fiscal year begins. But the sheriff’s office will still be short for the remainder. Staly said it will take some “creative budgeting” such as delaying the purchase of 75 new laptops or 10 patrol cars until next year.
And one additional challenge Staly is dealing with: with law enforcement agencies in 67 Florida counties and many more in the rest of the country suddenly hiring masses of new officers to enable additional school deputies, the quality of new recruits becomes an issue: how will the sheriff ensure that bottom-of-the-barrel picks don’t end up patrolling Flagler’s roads? “I’m not going to lower my standards,” Staly said.