Just four years ago (in August 2006), the Flagler County School Board signed a deal with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office to have nine deputies in the schools, or potentially one in each school. The cost to the district: $222,417.
Today, the school board is about to approve a new contract with the sheriff, for just five deputies in five schools. The cost: $300,566. It’s an improvement over last year’s cost of $374,300, when five deputies were also under contract with the district.
The $300,566 figure is not the cost the entire deputy contingent but merely the 60 percent portion that is the school district’s responsibility. The sheriff pays 20 percent of the cost. Palm Coast pays another 20 percent. (Several years ago, the sheriff paid the entire cost.)
That 2010 figure includes seven crossing guards, at a cost of about $42,000. Four years ago the average cost of a deputy was $24,700. This year’s average cost for a single deputy: more than $50,000. That’s as much money money per deputy as the school district pays for a starting teacher with benefits.
The difference? Some of it can be explained, but not all of it. Four years ago Sheriff Don Fleming agreed to pay a larger share of the cost. No longer. The cost is now borne almost entirely by the school district. Why a single deputy would cost $60,000, however, is unclear.
Four years ago the district approved a contract totaling $235,000 with the including of $5,000 in training costs, a crossing guard at Rymfire Elementary, and five digital cameras, at a cost of $1,250.
Those digital cameras are a curious item. The 2010 contract also makes an allowance for five digital cameras, which are not cheap (one for each deputy). So does the 2009 contract. So does every contract going back to 2006. Winnie Oden, the liaison between the district and the sheriff, says the cameras are not replaced every year.
The $300,000 cost does not include overtime. Any overtime, which is generated when deputies cover extra-curricular activities, sports or other after-school events, are charged to the district at $32 an hour, with a minimum of three hours a pop regardless of the event or its duration. Nor does the figure include an additional $2,000 “incentive” for each school deputy. The district will cut that check for each deputy who completes the academic year.
The five deputies this coming school year will be assigned to five schools: FlaglerPalm Coast High School, Matanzas High School, Indian Trails and Buddy Taylor middle schools, and Pathways Alternative School. The district is also piloting a new program, at no additional cost to the schools: an additional deputy will be doing lunch duty at Rymfire Elementary and at Flagler Palm Coast High School, in exchange for a free lunch. (The other, permanent deputies will not get a free lunch.) If the lunch-patrol is deemed successful, the district and the sheriff’s office may consider expanding it. But school deputies assigned to each school already walk their respective school’s cafeteria during lunch periods. (The contract requires deputies to be visible most of the time.)
The seven crossing guards will be assigned at the following schools: Belle Terre Elementary (one), Buddy Taylor Middle and Wadsworth Elementary (two), Bunnell Elementary (one), Indian Trails Middle (two), and Rymfire Elementary (one).
Last year the school district paid for hundreds of hours of training and covered conference costs for deputies. That’s been eliminated, providing some of the savings this year compared with last, although the district is still required to provide some training. That training will now take place mostly in-house, usually at Buddy Taylor Middle School, whose principal, Winnie Oden, is the district’s liaison with the sheriff’s deputies. Oden, for example, is responsible for providing new deputies’ orientation.
Schools are gun-free zones, but not for deputies. They are required to carry a gun—but not a Taser. The Taser, Oden said, has been eliminated from deputies arsenals on school grounds.
There is a subtle but significant difference between the 2006 contract the last two years’ contract, including the one that the school board is set to approve today. In 2006, this was included under the deputies’ duties (SRD is short for School Resource Deputy): “The SRD is not a disciplinarian. The SRD shall consult with school officials during the disciplinary process when the disciplinary action is the result of alleged criminal activity.”
That line has been eliminated. The deputy, the contract reads, “retains full discretion with regard to enforcement of the law, making arrests, and taking appropriate enforcement action. Accordingly, it is agreed that school personnel will report all delinquent acts and crimes as quickly as possible to the SRD, whenever the students are under the jurisdiction of the school.”
Note the difference: The 2006 contract included the word alleged with regards to student crimes. That word is removed from the more recent contracts, including the 2010 contract. In essence, the school district has turned a presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt when students are involved. The contract does not address faculty or staff crimes, alleged or otherwise.
Oden, however, said schools still retain critical discretion when making judgments about acts that fall in the gray area between misbehavior and crime. Deputies, Oden said, “are not the ones that are immediately contacted when something like that happens. It is the principal that makes that decision. There’s a push, there’s a shove, we handle it with a referral, we handle it with a guidance counselor, we handle it with a conflict resolution. There’s a variety of things we do. Should it reach what we consider a float-over, if you will, to a criminal—it’s not just a push or shove, there’s been hurt, someone’s gotten really hurt, there’s been persistent behavior this way, it then becomes our responsibility to contact the SRD.”
The goal, Oden said, has always been to keep children out of the criminal justice system. “I’ve never had a school resource officer try to trump the principal. It just doesn’t happen.”