FLEMING ISLAND – The Clay County School Board has altered course in its effort to adhere to a new state law mandating that every school be protected by a School Resource Officer, a guardian program …
FLEMING ISLAND – The Clay County School Board has altered course in its effort to adhere to a new state law mandating that every school be protected by a School Resource Officer, a guardian program participant or an armed security guard come August.
During the May 3 school board meeting, the board decided to modify a previously-adopted plan to place School Resource Officers at each of its schools. The new plan calls for placing SROs only at high schools and junior highs and placing a trained school safety officer at each of its 27 elementary schools.
“While we’d never put a price on safety, I think I’ve brought to the table another option that may be doable for us in order to meet state statute and that option would be to keep the same mentality in our structure that we currently have in our high schools, and this is all contingent that the BCC continues to allocate the $883,000, and my understanding is they said they would continue to contribute until we got a systemic funding source,” said Addison Davis, school superintendent. “If that was the case, we would add junior high school resource officers, along with one relief officer and one intruder trainer to do intruder drills required by the new statute, and then within our elementary schools, hire school safety officers.”
These school safety officers, whose openings are already posted on the school district’s website, will have to complete a 144-hour comprehensive firearms safety proficiency training. Applicants must be at least 21 years old, have a concealed weapons permit and complete ongoing training and firearm proficiency tests as outlined in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act which is a separate requirement from the 144 hours of training.
Davis said the modified plan would cost around $1.2 million and only put the board at a deficit of an estimated $300,000, which he believes could be found internally. This greatly contrasts the original option to place an SRO in every school.
“While we all agree that it’s most attractive to put a law enforcement officer in every one of our schools, it’s going to cost a significant amount of money and it’s going to cost around $5.6 million to make that happen and I can tell you openly that’s money we don’t have internally,” Davis said.
On April 22, the school board voted to give Davis the direction to contract 44 SROs from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. At that time, the school board was in complete agreement that this was the direction they should take in meeting the state mandate, but they were also all wary of the costs involved. In the previous place, 44 SROs, which also requires six relief officers, six sergeants, one detective and one intruder trainer, would have cost a total of $3,310,000. The board would have received just over $2 million from the state, but the district would have still found itself at a deficit of $1,299,000 after all expenses.
Davis said the new plan as modified would serve until the school board secured a solid funding source for SROs for all Clay County schools. Charter schools were left out of the new equation, Davis said, as they have their own individual boards. According to Davis, these boards will have the ability to choose to do what they wish regarding the state mandate and if they want, they can be included in this option by receiving a proration of money they need to make it happen.
School board member Ashley Gilhousen was the first to speak in agreement that this option is what the board should pursue, citing its ability to meet the state mandate and keep the board fiscally sound. School board member Janice Kerekes said she too agrees but asked that the Orange Park Police Department and Green Cove Springs Police Department take care of their respective schools, a notion both towns have recently expressed interest in. School board members Carol Studdard and Mary Bolla also found themselves in agreement with this option. School board member Betsy Condon, though, was the only dissenting voice.
“I have grave reservations about us trying to save money and compromising safety because it’s not just saying, ‘We’re going to take our time and get the funding,’” it’s saying, ‘We’re going to put 27 people with a gun on these campuses that haven’t been there before and they’re not law enforcement officers,’” Condon said. “That’s very uncomfortable to me.”
Davis, after saying he respects Condon’s feelings, said that there are a number of counties implementing the model that uses school safety officers and that he does not believe it is going to be a problem for any of those counties or Clay County.
Once it came time to vote, the board voted to implement the option Davis presented with the understanding the school district will pursue interlocal agreements with GCSPD and OPPD. The motion passed 4-1, with Condon voting no. The board also voted 4-1, with Condon voting no, to address job descriptions, which moves the issue one step closer to reality.
After the vote, the board discussed adding a millage referendum to the ballot in August to create a revenue stream to fund ongoing school security. The draft of the referendum asks voters, “Shall an additional one (1) mill of School District ad valorem millage tax, beginning July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2023, be approved to enhance the safety and security of students and staff, and provide for necessary operating expenses of the School District?”
If approved, the tax would raise the school property tax by $1 per homeowner, taking the total from $6.43 per $1,000 of taxable property to $7.43. If passed, the millage is projected to generate roughly $10 million in revenue. However, the funds would not be collected until 2019.
Condon suggested opposed the wording “the millage tax will be used to provide for necessary operating expenses of the school district” on grounds it was confusing. Condon said the simpler the referendum is to read, the better the chances are that it gets passed. Board Chairman Carol Studdard disagreed with Condon and said there is nothing wrong with using the millage to help cover operating expenses.
“We are here to work in the best interest of the public schools of Clay County and to do this, when there are other things that will need to be done in hardening schools and safety so forth, no, I will not vote for that, at all,” Studdard said.
Shortly after this discussion, a motion to adjust the way the referendum reads, per Condon’s request, failed on a 2-3 vote, with Condon and Gilhousen the only yes votes. Closely following this vote, another motion was made to have the referendum as it was originally written put on the Aug. 28 ballot failed on a 2-3 vote, with Studdard and Bolla voting yes.