School Board, county wrestle over paying for deputies in schools
Published: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 8:33 p.m.
The Alachua County School Board, sheriff and County Commission all agree that having deputies in schools is a good idea to enhance security.
How to pay the bill, which tops $2.7 million, is a different matter.
The county and School Board now share the costs of providing school resource deputies from the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. Some commissioners said at a budget hearing this week they would like to see the School Board pay all the program's costs.
"Their focus is totally within the schools, so from a logical standpoint it makes sense that those dollars should come from the School Board and not the County Commission," Commissioner Lee Pinkoson later told The Sun.
The sheriff's contract with the School Board pays less than half of the cost, according to Sheriff Sadie Darnell. The county covers the rest.
The cost has increased dramatically because the Sheriff's Office, which used to only have deputies in middle and high schools, now has them at all levels. Darnell decided to put them in elementary schools after the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
She disbanded the agency's traffic unit as part of her reorganization to help free up 12 deputies to work in the schools.
"I mean, that's where we can really, I think, make a difference in molding young people's view of us and developing relationships with them," she said.
Resource deputies are clearly important, Pinkoson said, but because of their school-centric work and the county's limited resources, the responsibility of funding them should fall squarely on the School Board.
Pinkoson noted that the School Board receives funding from both property taxes and the state government, while the commission depends almost entirely on property tax revenues.
Commissioner Mike Byerly said the School Board should be paying for the program because the schools are receiving the direct benefit from it.
"I mean, ultimately, taxpayers pay for it," Byerly said. "The real question is: Should the funding come through the County Commission or should it come through the School Board, specifically?"
The commission voted 4-0 — Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson was absent — to send a letter to the board expressing its concerns over the current funding split between the county and School Board.
The School Board agreed to pay up to $723,531 for the school resource deputies in its 2013 contract with the Sheriff's Office, which became effective last month.
The 2012 contract called for the board to pay up to $417,657 for the program, which at the time only provided deputies for middle and high schools.
The School Board also provided funding for instructional materials and training: $6,000 in 2012 and $12,000 under the 2013 contract.
Darnell said she doesn't expect the School Board to be able to fund 100 percent of the cost anytime soon.
School Board Vice Chair Gunnar Paulson agreed, and he pointed out that the board increased its funding by $300,000 this year.
"We appreciate the help and we said we'd try to help out more, and we did," he said.
Paulson said the School Board faces many of the same budget struggles the county does.
"So we feel the pain," he said. "We appreciate the commission for helping us and we'll continue to try to help them more every chance we get."
Darnell said she was surprised the commission suggested the School Board fund the deputies 100 percent but felt commissioners raised understandable concerns. It's reasonable to keep cost in mind, she said.
Darnell said she has already broached the subject with Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd, who announced Tuesday he plans to retire at the end of September.
It wouldn't be fair to try to raise the School Board's share of the funding now, she said, because a contract for the next year was just finalized. However, she and Boyd discussed upping its contribution for the following year as a possibility, although now that he is retiring he won't be a part of that eventual discussion.
The School Board values the school resource deputy program, Paulson said, and has made it a priority to fund it as much as it can, given its other financial responsibilities.
Having law enforcement in the schools is a good investment for everyone, from the School Board to the Sheriff's Office to the county to the community at large, he said. Deputies form relationships with students, he said, adding that he expects to see fewer kids getting into trouble as a result.
"This is a great preventative measure that will show benefits down the road," he said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.