Thursday in a special board meeting of the Jackson County School Board, the board voted 4-0 to establish their own police department as a means to comply with Senate Bill 1069. Board member Charlotte Gardner was absent from the meeting.
Moore told the board that the bill outlined three methods to assist the school districts in complying with the requirements of placing a school resource officer at every school. One is what we are currently using, where we have five officers provided by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, two from Marianna Police Department and one from the Graceville Police Department through a contract basis to supply officers on the campuses. Moore said, “We need an additional seven officers and what I am asking for here today is for those officers and a police chief.” Moore clarified that because the school board could only pay for the services received, our contract with the sheriff’s department and the other police departments is for 190 days of service. All the police officers and deputies typically work somewhere 260 days and that is a 70-day gap that the school board cannot pay for because we would not be receiving services. In essence it would put a burden on those other agencies.”
Moore said the second option is for the school board to form their own police department which is common is some of the larger districts and the smaller districts is not so common. Moore said, “Bay County currently has a combination of the two and that is what I am proposing here today, is that we continue with the officers that we have contracted as long as we can and then for the additional officers that are needed that we form our own police department and advertise and try to form our own police department.
Moore said the third option is the guardian program or the marshal program. That option requires that the superintendent, the board and the sheriff agree and then there is a responsibility that falls on the sheriff to have a training program to train those individual. Moore said, “The sheriff and I have had much discussion along with Mr. Sims and Mrs. McDaniel and we do not feel that that is a viable option so we really just want to look at the first two. With the dollar restraints we are looking at, we feel we can do this and be within the allocation we are going to receive.”
Moore said he had checked with FDLE and that the first step was a resolution and he chose the resolution and the second step was to hire a police chief. Moore said, “I want to emphasize that we appreciate, that I appreciate the cooperation we have with the sheriff’s office, the police departments, and I personally feel like if I had my choice I would not be asking to consider this. But knowing that we have a deadline of August 13 when our students return, I feel like it’s imperative because we are behind the eight ball at this time.” Moore reiterated that the most important goal is to provide a safe environment for our students and staff.
School board member, Dr. Terry Nichols said, “Let me say the cooperation that we’ve had with law enforcement throughout the county has been phenomenal. We have met with the county commission and we see what has transpired across the state to have school resource officers in the school.” Nichols thanked the sheriff’s department and the police departments for their cooperation. He asked if Marianna Commission was going to support Marianna High and Marianna Middle. Moore advised that it was up in the air at this time, that they might not at this time. Nichols stressed that the school board could only employee these employees within the school board police department for 191 days. The motion was made to accept the hiring of the police chief by Chris Johnson for discussion.
Stacey Goodson said he appreciated everyone being here, “I have thought about this for the last two weeks. Staff went to the county commission meeting a couple of weeks ago and they can’t do any more than what they are doing. From a feasibility standpoint, if we choose to do this and we hire these additional seven plus a police chief, the way the law reads they mandate that someone be in that school at all times when students are there, is that correct?” Moore advised that it was discussed in the legislation but it never passed. Goodson said his concern was if these were hired, at some point, if someone is sick and out, how are we going to address that with these seven. Transportation and safety director Petey Sims said his first line of defense would be the chief and if we had more than one out, then they’d probably have to look at getting off duty officers to come in and they’d have to be paid out of the school board budget. Goodson asked Sheriff Lou Roberts for input.
Roberts said, “I can see where you have someone who becomes injured or on maternity leave, it could get tight and that amount of officers would be half or close to half of my responding deputies so that being said, I can foresee that you could have two, maybe three being absent. The problem is the extended amount of time someone may be out. They would have to be fully trained to take that spot.” Roberts stressed his concern about the employees hired by the school board would be based on 191 days and that the biggest consideration would be hiring the right person with consideration of salaries in the county. He reiterated his concern over the ‘school board police officers’ having the right equipment, radio, gun, safety equipment, and vehicle.
School board member Chris Johnson said everyone wanted the same thing, safe schools for our kids and drew a round of laughter when he said he was in a unique responsibility in that he audited the sheriff’s department and they were stretched as tight as they could be. He said that they had to do something now and that they might make some mistakes but it was a work in progress. He stressed the importance of everyone working together.
School board member Tony Pumphrey requested the presence of Sheriff Roberts and other police departments sitting in on the hiring of the personnel. Roberts said he and his office would be available to assist in that process.
Moore recognized Jamie McCallister for all of his help through Chipola for his help in active shooter training recently.
Pat McDaniel from PAEC discussed the issue of liability from an insurance standpoint. McDaniel stated the school board was probably looking at $5,000-$6,000 increase in the worker’s comp premium. He said the liability part, he was thinking was probably going to be less than $5,000 so overall. McDaniel said he thought the school board was looking at less than $10,000 increase in premiums. He reiterated that if vehicles were to come into play, that would be a different story altogether.
The board vote 4-0 to move forward with their own police department. The paygrade for the police chief would range from 25-30, depending on educational level. For the police officers, the pay grade would be 25-26.