The Flagler County school district has several options if it chooses to supplement school security provided by the Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies with additional armed guards.
One option is to train current school staff, including faculty, deans, principals, non-instructional personnel and bus drivers. A second option is to create a district program that would hire its own armed guards–what would be the district’s own security service. A third option is to contract with an existing security service other than the Sheriff’s Office.
None of the options are cheap. Initial annual costs range from over $150,000 to nearly $600,000.
The school board last month opted not to go forward with the so-called “Guardian” program, as the state refers to arming civilians on school campuses, at least not this year. The deadline to qualify for training dollars was too short, and the district did not have all the information it needed to make an informed decision. On Tuesday, Tommy Wooleyhan, the district’s safety specialist, briefed the school board during a workshop on what, more precisely, such an armed civilian program would cost.
Depending on what approach the board takes, the district would develop a budget for next April or May, to be adopted ahead of the 2023-24 school year, the earliest when an actual armed civilian program would be put in place. Still: that’s assuming the board would go that route. Currently, the board is divided on the matter.
“It’s a large financial impact to our district. There’s a lot to think about with this,” Wooleyhan told the board.
The first option would use plainclothes (or undercover) existing employees as guards. Administrators like principals and assistant principals work 12 months a year, so their training would be incorporated into the program. But if a 196-day employee, such as a teacher, were to be part of the program, that employee’s training time would have to be paid at the same rate as the employee would be paid when teaching. But the district administration is discouraging the use of teachers. “Who could volunteer for these services are principals, assistant principals, dean, guidance counselors, media specialists, instructional and non instructional employees that are not assigned to any individual classrooms,” Wooleyhan said. “This is just off local recommendations.”
Classroom teachers could be a “possible exception” if they are former members of the armed services or law enforcement, he said. The district would develop policies to identify the armed staffers.
Using that option and arming 12 staffers, for at least one such armed presence at each school, the district estimates training costs alone would run to $78,000. Weapons, armored vests and radios would add $75,000, for a first-year cost of $153,000, with an additional annual training cost of $2,300 per employee. For a dozen employees, that would be $27,600 (at today’s dollars).
If the district wants to have at least two armed staffers at each school, or a total of 24, the first-year cost would jump to $247,000, and recurring training to $55,200.
That’s still not the complete figure. When the district last discussed the program, Trevor Tucker, the chairman of the school board, wanted to know the supplemental insurance costs that would inevitably be part of such programs. Oddly, the costs differ depending on the employee. For a school employee to be armed, a non-instructional employee’s insurance cost would be $250, half that of a teacher’s insurance cost. Aggregate additional costs would be from $6,000 to $12,000.
The Sheriff’s Office would conduct the training, which is an additional cost. Only part of that cost would be covered by a state grant. “We do not know what the sheriff’s part would receive,” Wooleyhan said. “What we do know is that there are $6.5 million out there for the 67 districts in the state of Florida. So if you take that, that’s about $100,000 per district, at a minimum you are guaranteed $100,000. So we know there would be a financial impact to our district as well.”
“Obviously it’s the least expensive way to go. Not necessarily the best way to go,” Board member Cheryl Massaro said. She wants district staff surveyed on the option, knowing that there are employees who are strongly opposed, while others not necessarily so. Massaro wants a better idea of the breakdown.
The second option would be for the district to develop its own armed security service. It would pay guards an hourly rate, plus a coordinator who could travel between schools. They would be visible as armed guards. They would be employed for a full year, enabling them to cover summer school, as well as cover sports or other extra-curricular events. That option “would be creating a whole new job description, a whole new salary lane, they could be a whole new bargaining unit, all that, and would be holding brand new position for for Flagler schools,” Wooleyhan said.
For just nine armed security personnel under that scenario, the district would have to shoulder a new cost of $467,000 in the first year, with recurring annual costs of at least $360,000, plus at least $10,000 in health insurance costs.
“It is a preferred option for some district safety specialists in other districts rather than the plainclothes,” Wooleyhan told the school board. “The plain clothes guardian is a cheaper option. But identifying those guardians is sometimes a challenge.” In other words, making the difference between an armed staffer and an armed assailant during an emergency situation could lead to a staffer getting shot, when responding law enforcement may be confused as to who is what.
The third option would be contracting with a security agency. The state has approved agencies. Some districts have adopted that model, especially in larger districts where the local law enforcement agencies don’t have the personnel to cover all the schools. Those security employees would not necessarily have to have additional training. That option would cost $585,000 in the initial year. The services are provided vehicles. The district would be responsible for that cost, which amounts to over $110,000 for 10 vehicles.
Whichever option the district chooses, if it were to go that route, would create a cost in addition to the existing contract with the sheriff’s Office. That contract currently costs the districts $1 million for 12 deputies (including a commander) and nine crossing guards.
The numbers were clearly a surprise to the board.
“Are we doing as much to refine our practices and student services so we don’t need the Guardians, even if we go down that route and add the Guardians?” School Board member Janet McDonald asked the superintendent.
“Collectively, as our departments work together, we absolutely are always trying to meet the needs of our students and our families,” Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt said. “So that proactive piece, we do have identifiable indicators, who the student services team is to support the students at the school based site, or if there’s some type of alternative placement. I think we’re doing yeoman’s work in terms of trying to be very responsive to the needs of our families. Sadly, it’s always the what if and the unknown. But we are not going to settle on that. We’re always going to make sure that we’re doing everything within our resources to make sure we’re able to be responsive and proactive at the same time.”
The district is also working on an agreement with the Colorado-based I Love You Guys Foundation. It offers programs focused on responses to school-assailant situations and reunification methods. “Reunification” is the term used to describe how students who have been locked down or involved in a potential active assailant situation are accounted for and reunified with their parents. (The district is preparing to carry out one such exercise in October with the sheriff’s office and the Emergency Operations Center.) The organization’s website says its program is used in 30,000 organizations around the world (not just schools). It disseminates them through training events and exercises.
“This is preventative stuff that we are actually doing,” Wooleyhan said. “We are required to identify and train employees that are to be trained in threat assessment within 90 days, per state statute. We’ve been working with our student services team and our mental health coordinator.”
The sheriff’s school resource deputies are at each of the nine schools. Two deputies are at each of the two high schools. Imagine School at Town Center, the publicly funded, privately run charter school, also has a sheriff’s deputy.
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