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Debate continues over SROs

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

During a workshop meeting of the Madison County District School Board on Monday, May 7, debate over School Resource Officers (SROs) continued among members of the Board. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Pickles informed the Board of discussions she has had with the Madison County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) to provide additional SROs to provide security for all the schools in the district. In the aftermath of February's school shootings in Parkland, the Florida legislature appropriated funds for each school district to provide security officers in each school. In order to meet this mandate, Dr. Pickles has been negotiating with the MCSO to provide five additional SROs for the district.

One obstacle between the Board and the MCSO is the approximately $164,000 needed in the first year to equip the new officers. Included in this total is the cost of vehicles. Members of the Board questioned the need for the SROs to have patrol vehicles. "They can drive themselves to work every day, just like teachers do," said Board member Susie Williamson.

Another point of contention for the Board was what to do with the officers during the summer months when school is not in session. Board members questioned the need to have SROs for 12 months.

Board member VeEtta Hagan brought into question the starting salary of the SROs which; with Social Security, insurance, benefits, etc. would carry an annual price tag of approximately $50,000. Hagan did not feel Sheriff's Deputies should be paid that much. "They [Deputies] only go through six to nine months of training and then they come out, and they think they're gangsters. I don't think they should make as much as a teacher," said Hagan. "We can outsource. We don't need to have anyone from the Sheriff's Office. We can advertise, people will want to come work for us."

District Attorney Tommy Reeves informed the board that they could not compel the Sheriff to provide SROs. The district can in effect hire its own police force. Other school districts in the state have done that. The Board can negotiate an agreement with the local Sheriff, or they can pursue hiring their own security personnel. "I feel the Sheriff has, in good faith, presented what he is willing to do in terms of providing SROs for the District. The District is free to negotiate with the Sheriff or hire its own security," said Reeves. No action was taken, and negotiations are likely to continue.

Another item up for discussion among the Board members was that of funding travel for school activities that do not produce revenue, such as band, cheerleading, golf, etc. One suggestion made was to use a van for some sports, such as golf and tennis. This would greatly reduce travel costs for those activities. It was also suggested that the Board cover 100 percent of the travel costs for non-revenue generating activities.

District Maintenance Supervisor Tim Ginn addressed the Board regarding aging air conditioner units at several of the schools. He suggested developing a plan to replace units a few at a time.

The purchase of new buses was discussed. District Chief Financial Officer Walter Copeland proposed the lease/purchase of eight new buses with a five-year lease. This would result in an estimated savings to the District of $135,000 over a five-year span. Some buses in the District's bus fleet have been in service since 1992.

A phone system lease was also discussed. It was suggested that the District enter into a 60-month lease for a new phone system. The District would own the equipment at the end of the lease period.

The dress code and code of conduct for the upcoming school year was discussed. Both the dress code and the code of conduct will be available for review before public hearings on the matters.

The next scheduled meeting of the Madison County District School Board will take place on Monday, May 21, at 6 p.m. in the School Board meeting room at 210 NE Duval Ave., in Madison.

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