Little by little, Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming has been getting out of paying for school resource deputies while getting the school district to pick up larger and larger shares of the cost. That cost has risen year after year, while the number of deputies who actually work in schools has been cut from nine three years ago to five this coming year.
Last year, Palm Coast assumed the cost of one of those deputies for $102,000. It was City Manager Jim Landon’s idea. The city is set to do so again this year, likely for slightly less than $102,000, though the city council has yet to hear about it. As was the case last year, Landon sprang the issue past the last minute: school was already in session, and he portrayed it as a matter of urgency—and fiscal good sense for the city.
Here’s how: Knowing that the school district was strapped for money, Landon approached the school board and the sheriff, proposing to pay for the one deputy. In exchange, Landon wanted all five school deputies—who work just 180 days in schools—to be assigned to Palm Coast streets the rest of the year, even though the school district and the sheriff were paying the full salaries and benefits of four of the five deputies. In essence, while the city was picking up the cost of one deputy in schools, the school district was ending up subsidizing three deputies’ street duties in Palm Coast in non-school hours.
“From my point of view, we’re getting five deputies for the price of one,” Landon told the city council last year. That was true, the flip side being that the school district was getting one deputy for the price of three. The school deputies were not then (nor are they now) part of Palm Coast’s separate contract with the sheriff, who provides law enforcement for the city for $2.6 million. Counting the school deputy the sheriff was paying for, that’s how Landon was able to buy the services of five deputies for the price of one.
Landon presented the issue to the council last year a week into the school-year, “so we’re a little bit behind on this one,” he told council members. It was a tactical move designed ensure as little resistance from council members, who even then were under increasing financial pressure. And there was resistance.
“When I first read this, I was actually against it,” council member Frank Meeker said during that meeting.
“You know something, Mr. Meeker?” fellow-member Mary DiStefano told him, “So was I. But I like getting the five for one. I like those odds.” DiStefano added: “When we start doing our budget for 2011, we really should be evaluating how this is working out.”
The council is doing its budget. It’s also laying off some 15 people. There has been no such evaluation, though Landon is now likely to put one hurriedly together as he plans the same approach he took last year: The item of the Palm Coast school deputy has yet to appear on a council agenda, though the Flagler County School Board approved its portion of the contract Tuesday evening under the assumption that Palm Coast’s signing off was a mere formality. Last year Landon argued that the benefits of the deputy outweighed the costs. But he wasn’t laying off his own staff at the time while picking up another agency’s costs.
And the question Meeker asked then is just as likely to crop up again this year, as it did at the school board: “Should it be coming out of our budget? Or should it be coming out of the sheriff’s budget?”
Tuesday evening, the school board voted 3-2 to approve a $300,000 contract with the sheriff. The vote was much closer than Winnie Oden expected. Oden is the principal at Buddy Taylor Middle School and the school’s liaison with the sheriff. It was closer than board members expected, too—because they weren’t expecting what they saw in the contract, and weren’t happy with what they did see.
“The burden here is not being shared as equally or as fairly as it should be,” board member Colleen Conklin said—and she was one of the three who eventually approved the contract.
The $300,000 pays for only three deputies and seven crossing guards. The seven crossing guards—part-time, low-wage jobs—cost less than $50,000 combined, so the three deputies cost is around $250,000, or $83,000 per deputy. The cost includes each deputy’s benefits, retirement and other associated costs. It does not include overtime, which the district will pay as a supplement at $32 an hour, with a minimum of three hours for every assignment requiring overtime. But it does include a $2,000 supplement each deputy will receive for finishing out the academic year. When the deputy Palm Coast is paying for works overtime hours at school functions, Palm Coast won’t be paying those costs. Nor will the sheriff. The school district will.
Shellenberger was unhappy with the notion of paying for the deputies’ full-year salaries while having their services for less than eight hours a day and just eight months of the year.
The school day at the high schools is six hours and 45 minutes long. Deputies are required to be at school 15 minutes before school starts and for 15 minutes after school ends. So they’re on the school clock for just seven hours and 15 minutes. The rest of them time, they’re on the sheriff’s patrol clock—or, in this case, on Palm Coast’s patrol clock. So even during the 180 days deputies are working for the schools, the deputies will have the equivalent of at least 17 work days on Palm Coast streets—at the district’s expense. That’s in addition to the four months of the year when school is not in session, and the district is subsidizing those deputies’ Palm Coast patrols.
Nevertheless, board members Conklin, Sue Dickinson and Andy Dance approved the contract. Shellenberger and Trevor Tucker were opposed. It’ll be up to the Palm Coast City Council next, probably after school begins later this month.