Implementation of School Marshal Program to cost Volusia County School District at least $3.2 million
The Volusia County School District is bracing itself to pay at least $3.2 million in hiring costs to put at least one armed school resource officer or guardian at every public school under Florida Legislature's School Marshal Program, a mandate which the state has allocated $67 million in funding — but not for personnel costs.
The program is a mandate under Senate Bill 7026, or the "Marjory Stone Douglas High School Public Safety Act," which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott in March. To comply, the School District will need to increase its contract with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office by adding 4 school resource deputies and hiring 44 school guardians plus one overall guardian supervisor. The estimated $3,285,837.21 in personnel costs, assuming the Volusia County Sheriff's Office indirect cost of $585,221 is put in by the county, is almost triple of what the School District currently spends, though it has about $1.6 million in allocated state funding for improving overall school safety.
“That seems way out of line,” said Carl Persis, District 4 School Board member.
Akin said the state didn't know how much training was going to cost when legislators decided to allocate $67 million to it. He also said, unlike Volusia, some districts still have yet to figure out how much training will cost them. However, nothing will happen until after July 1 when the state figures out how much it will spend on the School Marshal Program, Akin said.
While it is a possibility that money could either be reallocated from the training funding or the state decides to give school districts more funding for school safety, it's not guaranteed. District 5 School Board Member Melody Johnson said she questioned whether legislators would have to go to session to do that. If that's the case, and a special session isn't called, the School District may have to pay the full cost of the new personnel costs before legislators reconvene for the 2019 session.
Johnson said the board should reach out to municipalities for help. Volusia County has not set aside funds to help the School District.
“I just don’t want to hope that Florida will help us," Johnson said.
District 1 School Board Member John Hill suggested that the District employ 70 school guardians instead of renewing contracts with VCSO and local police departments. The District could hire about three school guardians for the cost of a school resource officer, about $94,000 Hill said.
Other School Board members pointed out that a school guardian wouldn't have arresting powers, but Hill said he would rather employ people with a weapon who can protect students rather than a deputy or officer who would be thinking about arrests. He said he would be in favor of contacting retired military veterans, many of whom have already contacted him, for the guardian program.
He said he believes the School District should train as many people as possible.
"Let's own the program and protect the students," Hill said. "Let's not just check boxes."
School Board Chair Linda Cuthberth, who also represents District 3, suggested the Board consider a substitute pool for the guardian program as well. She also asked if the Board was anticipating any possible budgeting problems that may arise, especially in the second half of the school year.
Updated at 10:36 on Tuesday, June 12, to reflect the updated estimates of personnel and training costs for the School Marshal Program as discussed at the June 12 school board meeting. A previous version of this article stated the personnel costs were estimated at $3.5 million and training at $110,000.