Nine days after a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy was hired for $11,700 by a parent and posted at Old Kings Elementary School as permanent security–without a contract, without legal or policy review, and without the school board’s knowledge–the school board Tuesday evening unanimously ratified the superintendent’s decision.
But it did so with words of caution, some of them stern, from two board members, who were uncomfortable with several aspects of the arrangement, including the risk of setting a slippery precedent, with giving the impression that Old Kings is more deserving of special security detail than other schools, and with the way the board only learned about the matter well after it had been approved.
Superintendent Janet Valentine and School Board Chairman Andy Dance defended the decision, which has drawn broad attention and a variety of reactions since a FlaglerLive report revealed it Sunday. “We should be praising the donation of a parent which just happens to be a little out of the normal,” Dance said.”It’s not out of the normal purview of the superintendent,” Dance said.
(The school board every two weeks votes to approve any transaction exceeding $10,000, as this transaction did: the school board is the fiscal agent for the transaction. Dance said that since the transaction falls under an existing contract with the sheriff’s office for extra services, the requirement that it be approved by the board doesn’t apply.)
(On Monday, Dance further clarified: the existing SRO contract with the school board includes a provision that notes that “Deputies not assigned to the SRD Unit who work over-time details at the school shall be reimbursed at the current rate of $32.00 per hour as established by the sheriff.” It was under that contractual authority that Valentine could approve the hiring of the deputy at Old Kings, Dance said. Further, he said, the school district will now issue a purchase order in conjunction with the donation–and subsequent to the board’s approval of the donation. The purchase order, a tracking device for expenditure, will be on the school board’s agenda for approval at its next meeting.)
Fellow-board members Trevor Tucker and John Fischer also had no issues (and no questions) about it, while Valentine said: “Personally I couldn’t see how we could say no.”
Laurie Lauria, the parent of a sixth-grader at Old Kings, made the arrangement with Old Kings Principal Nancy Willis and Winnie Oden, the school’s liaison with the sheriff’s office. Lauria’s name was never mentioned at the school board meeting this evening–nor was the fact that Lauria herself did not personally make the donation. The check she wrote and signed on Jan. 9 was under the name of Police Services Inc., an obscure, Ormond Beach-based company that apparently manufactures taillights and similar accessories. None of the board members asked about the parent or the company.
Lauria has been unwilling to talk with reporters. The money pays for 46 days’ worth of a cop’s services, and the arrangement, signed by Lauria and Oden (Oden also refused to speak with a reporter about it) specifies that the officer will have no classroom interaction with students, or traffic control authority.
“I couldn’t think of anything better to say to one news reporter today that this is the power of one,” Valentine said.
Board member Sue Dickinson was less gushing.
“I am very grateful for the donation,” Dickinson said. “My problem is the fact that we have more than one elementary school. And the way I see it is that we’re setting a precedent, and we’re saying that, in my opinion, that this school, because this parent is willing to give the money, this school that has a parent with the money to give, that the safety there is a little more important than it might be elsewhere. Now I understand that the committee is out there, and they’re going to be presenting to us their report in a couple of weeks, and my guess is that the SROs is going to be on that, and as you just stated, it’s going to be our job to find the money to put these SROs into the schools. I would have liked to see this all come together at one time, as opposed to this school getting something ahead of everyone else. I also would have liked to have seen it come to us before it started.”
In early February, a school district committee will be presenting options on how the district could return deputies to the elementary schools, presumably on the district’s and the sheriff’s dime.
Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre, speaking with reporters earlier this afternoon at his office, said that part of the plan entails possibly hiring what he called “seasonal” officers, who would work part-time–but full time during the school year–and therefore cost substantially less than full-time deputies. Manfre favors changing the formula that now calls for the district to pay three-quarter of the cost of SROs, to something closer to a 50-50 split.
There is unanimity on the board to place SROs back in the schools, though the details of the plan may decide how, and to what extent, such SROs would be funded. Colleen Conklin, another school board member who had reservations about the private hiring of a deputy at Old Kings, said the approach was temporary, and would be remedied by a more comprehensive, system-wide approach. Conklin, too, was critical of the administration’s decision to enact the guard duty at Old Kings without the board being informed.
“As gracious and as generous as the donation is,” Conklin said, reiterating several of the points Dickinson made, “it would have been great for all this to come together in one plan, because I do think there is some danger in setting that precedent.” Conklin said the distinction between an armed deputy on a campus and an actual School Resource Deputy is important, in that SROs develop relationships with students, by being permanently posted at each school. Hired deputies don’t: the post is filled by whatever deputy is available, or qualifies, for what amounts to overtime detail through the sheriff’s office. But Conklin, who underscored the importance of following policies and procedures, said she could not have said no to a parent making a donation of that magnitude.
The school board is taking its first look at a comprehensive security proposal on Feb. 5.
“I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received from parents and the community, not about this donation specifically, but about school security,” Valentine said.
The document below is the full extent of any contractual arrangement between Laura Lauria, Flagler County schools and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.