School cops will be more visible in all Flagler County schools come Aug. 18, when the fall term begins, including, for the first time in about eight years, in all elementary schools. That’ll be the case even though the total number of School Resource Deputies, or SRDs, in the district’s 11 traditional public schools will remain the same: six, one of whom will only be on campus part-time.
The change will be achieved in part by reducing the SRD presence at Flagler Palm Coast High School to one full-time deputy, and shifting the other full-timer to be a roving deputy, dividing his or her time between Bunnell, Old Kings and Rymfire elementaries. That deputy will maintain a base office at Rymfire. Previously, FPC cops were also responsible for Everest, the alternative school formerly known as Pathways. The alternative school is now closed, freeing that coverage.
The second part of the equation is this: The deputies who used to be assigned to Buddy Taylor and Indian Trails middle schools will still have those assignments. But they will take advantage of the two schools’ walking-distance proximity to elementary schools to divide their time between the middle schools and Wadsworth Elementary in one case, and Belle Terre Elementary in the other.
That way, all five elementary schools will have some cop coverage, though permanent coverage will be available only at FPC and Matanzas High School, with one full-timer assigned to each. FPC will have the additional presence of the SRD unit supervisor—Cpl. Don Apperson—who will be there 50 to 60 percent of the time, when not supervising elsewhere. The county’s two charter schools–Palm Harbor and Imagine School–do not have school cops.
The Flagler County School Board unanimously approved the new arrangement and contract with the Sheriff’s Office Tuesday evening. The contract’s cost to the school district: $280,900, a decrease of $10,000 from the amount paid last year. The amount also covers the cost of eight crossing guards. The money, while still taxpayer dollars, is actually a state grant called Safe Schools, channeled through the local district, so it does not infringe on or displace local dollars assigned to other local needs. The district’s grant pays for four of the six deputies. Palm Coast is paying for one. The Sheriff’s office is picking up the tab for the supervisor. (The city and the sheriff’s office do not pay for any of the crossing guards.)
“I remember when we began with the SRO contract,” board member Colleen Conklin said, “the larger percentage of this contract was covered by the sheriff’s department, and over the years, it’s probably been about four years, the percentage has shifted tremendously, to the school district size of the house.”
She’s right. The contract is not a change from last year, but it’s a significant change from eight years ago, when the district paid just $222,000 for its SRD’s, but for nine full-time deputies, providing coverage in virtually every school at the time. That arrangement had first been developed during Jim Manfre’s first tenure as sheriff, ending in 2005. His successor, Don Fleming, scaled back the number of deputies in schools and increased the cost to the district. Manfre pushed for a return to a deputy in every school when he regained office, but he was not willing to decrease the cost again.
The district went through significant convulsions in 2013, immediately after the Adam Lanza’s massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut (where Lanza’s killing spree including firing 154 bullets from an assault rifle), while rethinking security measures in schools. One plan was to double the size of the school cop contingent and avoid such legally and ethically hazardous situations as one parent paying for an extra cop at one elementary school, out of her own purse. In February 2013, the board approved expanding the presence of school cops to elementary schools, but by posting regular deputies on overtime assignments at the schools, at an additional cost of $84,000.
Making the arrangement permanent with School Resource Deputies trained for the purpose would have cost between $275,000 and $437,000 a year, in addition to the $280,900 already being paid. The board included that cost as part of its reasoning behind floating a referendum for a slightly higher property tax. The proposal failed emphatically, in part in a voter’s backlash against the SRD proposal. The district then shelved all such plans.
“One of the things that resonated for us this year was the lack of perhaps law enforcement visibility at some of the elementary schools,” said Winnie Oden, the long-time Flagler schools administrator, ex-principal, current transportation director and, all along, the district’s liaison with the SRD contingent. She was speaking to the district Tuesday evening, explaining the new contract. “And I do want to emphasize as I always do, it’s not the law enforcement component as it relates to enforcing law enforcement, but it’s that modeling, it’s that interaction, it’s that teaching classes, and that has been something that we’ve been struggling with. So how does one accomplishes that without talking about more money and more people? I have to give credit to Commander Cole who said—‘I have an idea.’”
Steve Cole is in charge of the SRD unit. Reorganizing the cops between the schools was his idea.
When School Board member Sue Dickinson objected to the way the contract made it look like “the school district is getting hit with it all,” Cole noted that the complete cost of deputies and crossing guards to the sheriff’s office is closer to $700,000, when such things as training, vehicles gas and other incidentals are included, so the amount charged to the district is not so much the cost of a deputy as the contribution required of the district. Nevertheless, that contribution remains in stark contrast with what the district used to get from the sheriff’s office for far less money, when the district had fewer students, less than a decade ago.
“I certainly would hope,” Conklin said toward the end of the discussion, “and I’ve said it in the past, that we could come to a greater get-back basically to what those originally contracts looked like, where we were sharing some of this responsibility in somewhat of a more equal manner.”
Andy Dance, the board chairman, ended the discussion on a brighter note: “The unique arrangement, getting the officers back in the elementary schools, and the fact that we have an interlocal with the three governmental entities all focused on one goal, which is safe schools, I want to thank them for their contributions and effort in this. As we move forward we just keep tweaking it, and hopefully we can increase our coverage of the schools as we move forward. That would be ideal, at least in my regard.”