On occasion the Flagler County School board weathers difficult moments or public criticism in meetings from particular groups—parents, support organizations, teachers—on specific issues. But difficult meetings with another government agency are very rare. That changed today when Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly appeared before the board at a workshop to discuss what was supposed to help formalize an agreement over how many deputies will be deployed in schools next year.
The hour-long discussion wasn’t tense, exactly, but it ended with the two sides further apart than anticipated, divided by some $88,000 in a $1.9 million plan to have 13 deputies at the county’s nine schools.
“In my opinion the contract needs serious work,” Board member Colleen Conklin said at the end of a long line of questions and concerns.
The sheriff said he’s providing 50 percent of the funding and that it’s up to the district to provide the rest with the state’s Safe Schools money the Legislature allocated in the aftermath of the Parkland school massacre. But that money falls at least $88,000 short of the necessary dollars to make the sheriff’s plan work, and it falls short by a larger sum if, as Conklin correctly reminded her colleagues, that Safe Schools allocation should include dollars for mental health initiatives and other measures that don’t have to do with paying for cops. “The mental health requirements are huge,” she said.
It was the first time in Staly’s so-far untested tenure as sheriff that he’s been so publicly and pointedly questioned over a safety plan that, in many regards, is neither the school board’s nor the sheriff’s ultimate requirement: it’s mandated by law—but in broad strokes, not in the sort of details that the sheriff’s plan is presenting the board. The details are in question.
The draft plan would have two deputies at each of the two high schools, and a deputy at each of the remaining schools, plus a supervisor, plus a commander overseeing the division. That’s a total of 13. The law requires that at least one deputy be posted at each school. The plan—which both Staly and Superintendent Jim Tager had spoken of in broad outlines, and with evident agreement, at a joint news conference several months ago — includes increasing the number of deputies at Matanzas High School from one to two, thus increasing the school district’s cost by $50,000 and the overall cost by just over $100,000 just for that school. Staly said the district could choose to stick with one deputy at Matanzas High School. “I don’t recommend it,” he said.
Board member Andy Dance asked repeated questions about what to him looked like “duplication” of supervision. Staly after the meeting called that “micromanaging,” and during the meeting said he was best positioned to know what it takes to properly supervise his ranks. He compared the approach to the school district’s own supervisory chain, with deans and principals at each school, for example (and others overseeing them). But Dance was still not clear about why the district had to pay for supervisory roles that appeared to include responsibilities beyond schools.
“I’d hate to see $88,000 be the stumbling block to keeping our kids safe,” the sheriff told the board, suggesting that the district had reserves to close the gap. But $88,000 is no small sum to the district. And Board member Janet McDonald and others were quick to point out that “we really can’t look at our surplus as a continuing cost.” The sheriff persisted, suggesting that the reserves be used this year while he and the school board try to convince lawmakers to change the Safe Schools funding formula, which actually penalizes districts like Flagler by pegging dollars to the crime index: districts with less crime get fewer dollars. That’s Flagler.
The County Commission funds the sheriff’s budget. But County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen, who sat through the whole discussion between the sheriff and the school board, aligned strictly with the sheriff, saying the commission would not be prepared to add more money to the pot. The commission has not yet discussed the matter openly, though Staly met with the commissioners one-on-one, as he had with four of the five school board members before today’s meeting.
Another issue concerned Dance and Conklin: for many years, Palm Coast government has assumed the cost of one school resource deputy every year. The sheriff’s plan ends that arrangement. That funding would be transferred to a road deputy in Palm Coast.
But Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, in conversation with Conklin and in a text to FlaglerLive, said the city has always been committed to paying for a school resource deputy, and as far as she was concerned, remained so: ‘The funds allocated remain as a line item in our budget and not one Council member has ever discussed not funding the SRD for the school district,” Holland texted FlaglerLive as the Sheriff and the board members were discussing the matter today, in response to a reporter’s question. “Considering the fact that there is an increased burden put on our school district and our Sheriff’s Office with the recent requirement to ensure additional SRD’s [in schools], I hope that the city’s support of an SRD can resolve any outstanding issues.”
The sheriff after the meeting said that based on his discussions with City Manager Jim Landon and the mayor, the city was on board with transferring that deputy previously funded as an SRD to street duty. The council has not discussed the issue in an open meeting.
To school board members, Staly said they could work out an agreement with the city on their own, as long as it does not involve him. “I want to negotiate with one person on this contract,” he said. But he is not opposed to having the city essentially transfer the money to the school board, and the school board adding that money to the pot devoted to the SRD program. That puts the onus on Palm Coast to affirmatively continue the SRD funding, but also to work out an agreement with the district in that regard—an agreement Dance said Superintendent Jim Tager should start working on with Landon, as that “could help us in a separate way.”
The plan to expand coverage of school deputies was negotiated between School Board attorney Kristy Gavin and the Sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge. At one point late in the negotiations Strobridge said the gap between the two sides had been down to $28,000, but it grew again.
Strobridge in early evening clarified in a separate interview, regarding Palm Coast’s role, that “those were all preliminary contract discussions for up and coming contracts. Those negotiations haven’t really started yet. They can do whatever they really want to as a city. That certainly could help the process. If the school board comes back and says we really want just one SRD at the high school, well, they’re really driving the boat.”
Strobridge and Gavin must now go back to the negotiating table. But they don’t have until August, as Board Chairman Trevor Tucker suggested toward the end of the discussion: school opens on Aug. 10, but the sheriff must hire and train new deputies months in advance before they’re ready to take to their beats. That means he must have an agreement within the next two weeks, he said, and the school board only meets once this month in a business meeting where votes are cast. Nothing stops the board from holding a special session, but pushing the date won’t help this particular contract.