The Jackson County Board of County Commissioners and the Jackson County School Board held a joint public meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Jackson County Agricultural Center on Highway 90. The slim crowd was mostly school board and law enforcement personnel along with the two boards and media well represented. The Florida Legislature this past session required every school in the state to have one school resource officer on every campus beginning with the upcoming 2018-19 school year. The two boards listened intently as Superintendent of Schools Larry Moore and Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts outlined what the options were for complying with the legislative mandate.
The “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act” requires, for the protection and safety of school personnel, property, students, and visitors, each district school board and school district superintendent to partner with law enforcement agencies to establish or assign one or more safe-school officers at each school facility within the district by implementing any combination of the following options which best meets the needs of the school district.
Those options are: School resource officer (SRO) programs, School Safety Officers, or School Marshal or guardian program. A short discussion was held about the Coach Aaron Feis guardian program with both boards opting for the school resource officer (SRO) program rather than the other two options. At present the Jackson County Sheriff’s office has officers at Cottondale High School, Grand Ridge Middle School, Jackson Alternative School, Malone School and Sneads High School. The City of Marianna has officers assigned to Marianna Middle School and Marianna High School with the City of Graceville providing an officer at Graceville High School. By start of school this year, SROs will have to be placed at Cottondale Elementary School, Early Childhood Center/Venture program/Adult Ed jointly, Golson Elementary School, Graceville Elementary School, Hope School, Riverside Elementary School, Sneads Elementary School, and a county-wide supervisor.
Figures presented for the 2017-18 school year was $172,048.00 from safe-school allocation with the total cost to the school board for the current SROs being $282,735.00. The 2018-19 allocation is $545,475.00, an increase of $373,427.00. Total increases for the number of additional officers needs was not immediately available but it was expected to be far more than the total allotted from the Safe School Allocation.
Roberts said, “Time and money are very critical. School is fixing to be out, but before you know it, it will be back in session, August is just a very short time away. I’m sure there’s going to be some things that we’re going to have to overcome, but I think with them working together as two boards, rather than separately, I think it’s a positive thing.” Roberts said there are a lot of hidden costs involved with adding an officer that sometimes is overlooked, “They have to have training and that is extensive, they have to have a vehicle and that is a huge expense, plus all the benefits above the set salary come into play. They are contracted with the schools for 190 days but they are with the department when they are not on their assigned days there, so it’s not like we are hiring someone for just the school year.”
Moore was very pro school resource officers, “In this day and age, I think it’s something that we can’t overlook. We need to have that law enforcement presence on our campuses and the fact that you have an armed trained law enforcement officer is a big reassurance.”
The number of SROs assigned to Jackson County schools will double this year. Presently there are eight SRO positions assigned to Jackson County schools with eight more being required to meet the legislative mandate.