FLEMING ISLAND – In an effort to help the public further understand school security as it relates to the school district’s new police department, Superintendent Addison Davis started a “Listen and Learn” tour around the county. His first stop was at Fleming Island High on March 28.
Thirty residents attended the first of seven stops. Most of the session, Davis explained the ins and outs of the school district’s police department as well as the admittedly expedited timeline that saw this department come to fruition.
“As we talk about a timeline, one may say, ‘this has been somewhat expedited and it’s moving in a fast direction,’ and I will tell you openly, I do not disagree,” Davis said. “This is something I’ve told everyone: it’s a tall order. However, it’s a step in the right direction for our students. As Superintendent, my job is to implement and plan initiatives and we had to move at an expedited rate to make these initiatives happen.”
The police department was approved by the majority of the school board earlier this year. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office will be out at the end of the current school year. However, Chief of Police Kenneth Wagner made it very clear the school district police department will maintain a working relationship with CCSO.
“In May, I’m going to start the [Mutual Understanding Agreements] that we’ll enter into with Orange Park Police Department, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, [CCSO] and Green Cove Springs Police Department because we do have to establish those relationships,” Wagner said.
A lot of the information presented by Davis and Wagner during the Listen and Learn session already had been released. There was some new information to glean out of it such as the fact that according to Davis, he met with CCSO six times to determine how to keep CCSO in Clay County schools. However, void of a compromise that worked for the school board’s budget in time, the board voted to move forward with the school district police department.
Previously, Davis and his staff had discussed other options with CCSO to keep CCSO in schools, but it wasn’t known until the Listen and Learn they had met six times.
Following Davis and Wagner’s presentation, attendees could write questions on cards for Davis and Wagner to answer. The first question asked was about salaries for the school district officers and whether their previous salaries would be matched.
“Yes, we will match salaries,” Davis said. “Nobody that comes from a different department to work for us will be losing money.”
Other questions concerned future taxes, which Davis said won’t increase since the recent millage increase will provide enough funds for the police department, and guardians. Davis vowed they’ll answer every question they receive at these Listen and Learn sessions.
Following the question and answer section of the session, Davis closed with a few final words.
“I’ll tell you openly and honestly, our job with this organization, this police department, will be focused on being visible, focused on prevention, focused on enforcement and focused on engagement,” Davis said. “That will be the priority of this division and to make sure they have a high standard every single day to protect our students.”
Bill Breese spent 30 years in Jacksonville working with the school board as an infrastructure and information technology technician. He found himself heavily invested in security and safety of schools with so many students, teachers and administrators. Before the Listen and Learn, Breese wasn’t exactly sure how he felt about the school district police department.
“I wanted to see what the plan was,” Breese said. “If you’re going to start a police department, there are certain things you have to do. I don’t think I care whether you have your own police department or not, as long as what you put in place is capable of doing what it needs to do, and I think my major concern is that we prevent the threat before it shows up on the schoolhouse door.
“If we wait until somebody shows up with a gun, then the whole system is failing.”
Following the Listen and Learn session, Breese said he felt more confident in the school board police department, but he still wants to learn more. He also attended the April 1 session at Oakleaf High.
The next Listen and Learn is on April 16 at Keystone Junior/Senior High, followed by one at Orange Park High on April 19. After those, there will be a session on April 23 at Ridgeview High and on April 24 at Middleburg High. The final Listen and Learn will take place on April 30 at Clay High.
All meetings start at 6 p.m.