So much for December’s panic about school security: there will be no deputies in Flagler County’s five elementary school when classes resume on Aug. 19.
The Flagler County School Board Tuesday evening gave its approval to the district’s new contract with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office to provide six school resource deputies, or SRDs, and seven crossing guards for the duration of the school year.
Last spring the school board had decided to place five additional deputies in the county’s five elementary schools. The decision was prompted not so much by the December massacre of 20 elementary school students at Sandy Hook Elementary, but by a parent at Old Kings Elementary who decided to privately pay for her own school cop and post him at Old Kings, beginning in late January, at a cost of nearly $12,000 for just two months.
The private cop arrangement was reached hurriedly between the parent—Laurie Lauria, at the time the parent of a sixth-grader at Old Kings, Nancy Willis, at the time the principal at the school, and the district administration, without school board approval. The board subsequently ratified the decision with a lot of reservations, stressing that it felt uncomfortable approving a private cop at one school without having cops at other elementary schools. So the board then extended the posting of cops at all elementary schools for the remainder of the year, at a total cost to taxpayers of $84,000, relieving the parent of the cost of the cop at Old Kings, and pledged to continue assigning cops in elementary schools in the 2013-14 school year—0if voters were to approve a referendum raising property taxes last June 7.
Voters rejected the referendum by a wide margin.
The posting of additional cops would have cost the district between $275,000 and $437,000 a year. By June 7, it had become clear that tying the school cop measure to the referendum had hurt its chance of success rather than helped it. By then, emotions over the Newtown, Conn., massacre had cooled, along with congressional appetite for new gun control legislation.
Lauria’s sixth grade daughter at Old Kings has moved on to middle school, where cops are on campus, so she will not be writing another check.
“If a private request comes up, I’ll bring it to the board’s attention and they’ll make a decision,” School Superintendent Janet Valentine said Tuesday. “We don’t anticipate that happening.”
Two deputies will be posted at Flagler Palm Coast High School, one at Matanzas High School, and one each at Buddy Taylor and Indian Trails Middle School. The school board is footing the $280,000 bill for four deputies. Palm Coast is paying for one deputy. And the sheriff’s office is providing a sixth deputy—a supervisor—at its own expense.
The average cost of a deputy, when benefits, training, equipment and support services are included, is $74,000. The $280,000 the board is paying includes $67,300 for six crossing guards—one each at Belle Terre, Rymfire and Bunnell elementaries, two at Buddy Taylor Middle School and Wadsworth Elementary, and two at Indian Trails Middle School. (In 2006, the school board had nine deputies posted at all its schools, for just $222,000.)
The entire $280,000 cost to the district for the coming year’s cops will be paid for with a Safe Schools grant from the Legislature.
The school board will formally ratify the new school-cop contract at a subsequent meeting. But it gave its approval the same day that school districts and police agencies in north Florida held the second Rural County Summit in Gadsen County, where school security was the main topic of discussion. The conference was held at the Florida Public Safety Institute, near Quincy, and was organized by the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh, the North Florida Domestic Security Task Force and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Lt. Christopher Vanghelle of the Newtown Police Department and Lt. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police were on hand to discuss the Sandy Hook shootings in strategy sessions that were closed to the public, according to the News Service of Florida. They met with reporters, and Vanghelle, one of the first on the scene after Adam Lanza opened fire, praised the quick response at the elementary school.
“Just us arriving there when we did made that shooter stop and take his own life, which saved hundreds of other lives,” Vanghelle said. But he acknowledged he could never have prepared for Dec. 14, 2012, when 20 children and six school staff members died.