Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Volusia County schools may hire own armed officers
Dustin Wyatt Daytona Beach News Journal May 15, 2018
Putting armed security personnel at all Volusia County school campuses won’t be as expensive as originally thought if the School Board approves a plan to hire its own officers — with guns, but no arrest authority — to work only during the school year.
Meanwhile, putting a sales tax referendum before voters as part of a special election in 2019 likely won’t be as costly, either.
Both questions of funding came up Monday during a meeting at Daytona Beach International Airport that included top elected officials from Volusia’s cities and the county along with Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Superintendent Tom Russell.
Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis also was there to provide a clearer estimate on what a special election in the spring would cost taxpayers: not as much as $1 million, as originally reported, but rather $791,247, which is what it cost to open and staff all of Volusia’s 125 precincts for the 2016 election. That’s still too steep to some voters.
“Asking us to pay for a special election is not only fiscally irresponsible, but a slap in the face,” said Micheal Arminio, a Port Orange resident who serves on the city’s planning commission.
However, most of the Monday’s discussion centered on school safety and a fresh idea that would drastically reduce the cost to the school district, which had requested $2 million from the county to meet the new state mandate. Instead, cities and counties could be asked to give $800,000.
Following the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the Legislature approved the measure requiring armed security at every school but didn’t allocate enough money to add enough school resource officers. Russell and Chitwood have been brainstorming cheaper options.
The latest idea shared Monday involves the district hiring 44 armed “school marshals” for each of its elementary schools by July 1 for a salary of $30,000 a year, plus benefits, to work 180 days. That would save the district $1.15 million a year, officials say.
The employees would receive 132 hours of firearm safety and proficiency training from the sheriff’s office, but unlike the resource officers in place at middle schools and high schools — which are employed by a law enforcement agency — these school employees would not be able to make arrests.
That shouldn’t make their presence any less valuable in a crisis, said Greg Akin, the school district’s chief operating officer.
“We cannot arrest, but we can monitor and manage our program on our campuses,” he said. “Obviously, we’d want school resource deputies with arrest authority, but obviously we wouldn’t be able to afford that.”
He added that law enforcement agencies would be contacted as needed.“Right now, we don’t have any law enforcement officers on any of our elementary campuses,” he said. “The difference would be that we have someone there that is armed and trained extensively.”
Instead of asking for $2 million from the county, the School Board would need an additional $800,000 from somewhere to cover the cost of the operation and the purchase of liability insurance.
The concept, which school officials say was mirrored after a plan in Pasco County, still requires approval from the Volusia School Board, which will take up the issue next Tuesday.
School Board Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert, who attended the meeting, said she’d be interested in hearing more details as long as it doesn’t include arming teachers. Akin said it won’t.
The school district is seeking to hire ex-military and retired deputies, beach safety and correctional officers to fill the jobs. It would hire additional trained employees to work as subs as needed.
The round table meeting has for years been the think-tank for developing a referendum for a half-cent sales tax. Officials want the additional revenue — an estimated $45 million annually is at stake — to fund roads, water quality and flood control measures at a time when gas tax money isn’t keeping up with growth and traffic.
The measure was poised to be on the ballot in November, but mounting concerns over what the county charges developers for new growth in the form of impact fees — which haven’t changed since 2003 — convinced local leaders to postpone a vote. A day before the county was set to schedule the referendum, council members instead were urged to take up impact fees. A workshop is scheduled for June.
South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarbrough said Monday that some cities also haven’t examined their road impact fees in more than a decade and suggested they do so.
Once the impact fees are sorted out, members of the round table meeting have said they want to put the question of a sales tax before voters in 2019 as part of a special election.
Besides the $800,000 cost for a standard election — officials could save money by mailing out official ballots at an estimated cost of $550,000 — Lewis is also concerned about the potential turnout, which she expects will be much less for a special election than if the referendum had been held this November.
Voters who were turned off by the county’s reluctance to consider a change to impact fees before asking them to pay more in sales tax might not be mollified by seeing developers pay more if it means taxpayers will be on the hook for a special election.
During public comment time, Daytona Beach resident Linda Smiley told officials, “To hear you want to spend extra money to have a special election really sticks in the craw with residents.”