Last week Historic City News obtained a copy of a letter from Florida Representative Cyndi Stevenson addressed to St. Johns County School Board Chairman Bill Mignon and Henry Dean, Chairman of the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners, apologizing for her absence at the joint meeting of the two boards.
No other members of the St. Johns County Legislative Delegation were in attendance, so the purpose of Stevenson’s letter was to provide some information that she considered helpful as they worked through the meeting agenda.
I would like to thank Senator Hutson’s office for their assistance with the analysis of state funding that is provided for St. Johns County School District to enhance school security and safety.
During the 2018 Legislative Session, the Florida Legislature passed The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, a comprehensive measure that includes provisions to address the safety and security of Florida’s students and schools. Among the many policy changes enacted through this law, each district school board and school district superintendent are required to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to assign one or more safe-school officers at each school facility. Although the requirements in the Act necessitate increased resources, we believe that the education funds provided in this year’s budget are sufficient to accomplish these goals.
Through the 2018-2019 budget, the Florida Legislature has provided record funding for education and school safety. Specifically, St. Johns County will receive $1,420,889 more in Safe-Schools funding and an increased Compression Allocation of $1,445,431(FEFP p.05) to St. Johns County Schools. This provides $3,451,562 that could be utilized for school safety, a significant increase over the $585,242 allocated in these categories last year. Also included in the FEFP is a separate allocation for mental health funding; St. Johns County’s share of this allocation is $995.078. In total, St. Johns County School District is projected to receive a 6.31% increase in total K-12 funding, from approximately $280 million in 2017-2018 to approximately $298 million in 2018-2019 (FEFP p.02).
During the 2017 St. Johns County Legislative Delegation meeting, Superintendent Forson recommended that per-student funding be increased to $7,300 from $7,159 per-student in 2017- 2018. The 2018-2019 budget increases per-student dollars in St. Johns county from $7,159 to $7,331, a $172/student increase (FEFP p.03) exceeding Superintendent Forson’s request to the Delegation. These funding details can be found in the Public School Funding, FEFP, Final Conference Report for House Bill 5001 on the pages referenced above.
The requirements in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act are designed to give school districts flexibility and discretion in its implementation. Understanding that each school district is different, the law is not one-size-fits-all; individual school boards are responsible for deciding the best approach to fulfill the requirements laid out in the law. To that end, below are descriptions of some potential options that can satisfy the law’s safe-school officer provisions.
- Option 1: The Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, created by The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, allows local Sheriffs, in agreement and conjunction with district school boards, to train and arm certain volunteer faculty members to provide security, support, and protection in schools in the event of an emergency situation. Per the new law, the volunteer Guardians can satisfy the safe-schools officer requirement. The Florida Legislature has designated $67 Million to the implementation of this program in school districts that so choose, and will not create additional costs for school districts. If the St. Johns County School Board and Sheriff’s Office choose this program and replace current School Resource Officers, the unused SRO funds can be redirected toward other essential law-enforcement services. Several States, like Florida, specifically authorize certain K-12 employees to carry firearms under certain circumstances. These states include; Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. Further, several Sheriffs and School Districts in Florida have indicated support for, or a plan to implement, the Guardian Program.
- Option 2: The St. Johns County School District and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office currently employ (and share the cost of) 15 dedicated School Resource Officers (SRO) who maintain a presence at several St. Johns County Schools, including each high school in the district. In order to designate a School Resource Officer to each school in the county, the School Board and Sheriff’s Office would need to hire, at a minimum, 25 new, full-time SROs. In addition to, or supplemental to School Resource Officers, Districts may employ School Safety Officers (SSO). The increased Safe Schools funding in the 2018-2019 Florida budget allocates an additional $1,420,889 that can be dedicated to hiring new SROs and/or SSOs. These funds, combined with $1,445,431 in compression funds earmarked for St. Johns County Schools result in nearly 2.9 million new state dollars for St. Johns County.
- Option 3: The law grants school districts flexibility in their approach to protecting all students. To that effect, the safe-school officer requirement can be satisfied by appointing any combination of a School Resource Officer, a School Safety Officer, or a school Guardian. Districts can opt for this “hybrid” approach, given that at least 1 safe-school officer is present in all schools at all times.
Like you, our fundamental objective is to ensure the safety and security of all our students. We look forward to the collaboration between St. Johns County School District and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office on the decision on how best to implement the provisions outlined in The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
Florida Representative Stevenson serves on the following Committees & Subcommittees: Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee-VICE CHAIR, Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee, Health & Human Services Committee, Health Quality Subcommittee, Insurance & Banking Subcommittee, Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.