Alachua County Delays Approval Of Contract For Police In Schools

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An update about the 2015-2016 School Resource Deputy program, which places officers in area schools, was on the agenda of Tuesday’s Alachua County Commission meeting.

The school board has not yet approved a contract renewal with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office for the coming school year, which begins Aug. 24, according to Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell.

In contest is an $80,000 difference in the budget of the school district and the requested amount from the Sheriff’s office.

The county requested a reimbursement in May of $886,222 from the school board for costs associated with the program. Darnell said the amount is about 50 percent of the cost of the program, including the deputies’ salaries and operating expenses, which is on par with what other counties pay for similar programs. She said about 42 percent was requested in previous years. The police, funded by the county, will pay the additional costs.

Alachua County Superintendent Owen Roberts did not approve the request, saying the school board was only willing to offer  about $807,000 in state-provided funds for the entire county, Darnell said.

“If he and the school board members…truly valued the program of school resource personnel in schools, I would have hoped that they would have valued it so much that they would want to be a part of coordinating and participating in putting together a customized model within the schools,” Darnell said.

Now they’re at a stalemate.

The amount the superintendent proposed is less than previous years, Darnell said.

The amount requested reflects nine months of personnel costs and operating expenses, which is billed to the school board for reimbursement to the county.

Mary Helen Wheeler, a teacher at Westwood Middle School for 21 years, said that while she uses the school resource officers often, the contract may not be a priority for the superintendent.

“Our public schools are being choked to death by the lack of funding,” she said.

If the contract is not renewed, deputies will not be on school grounds unless responding to a call. However, as long as the contract is signed, Darnell said the program will continue, even with the lower reimbursement.

“If the law enforcement budget remains the same, I am still committed to the School Resource Deputy program,” Darnell said.

There is no projected date for a decision by the school board because the contract is still being negotiated, according to Jackie Johnson, Alachua County Schools spokeswoman.

About Christine Preston

Christine is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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