TCPalm: When schools pay the sheriff with your tax dollars, what's 'fair'?

Article Posted on October 30, 2018

By: Gil Smart, Treasure Coast Newspapers

Earlier this month, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder made a surprise appearance at a Martin County School Board meeting with a simple request:

Pay up.

So far this school year, Snyder said, his office has logged 3,254 calls from Martin County schools, 1,559 of which were serious enough to warrant case numbers.

"We're running a full-time police department for the children of Martin County within the public school system," he told board members.

Yet his deputies hadn't seen a dime.

In June, the school board opted to ask the Sheriff's Office to provide "school resource officers" at all county schools, per new state laws that require an armed gendarme on all campuses at all times. Previously, elementary schools were exempt.

Superintendent Laurie Gaylord and Snyder's office were to hash out contracts, but nothing ever got signed. So while 23 school resource officers and two supervisors patrolled county schools, no payment was ever made.

That changed Monday, at an emergency meeting where the school board approved a $2.37 million contract with the Sheriff's Office. Among other things, it will compensate the sheriff for just under $550,000 in costs already incurred for security services.

The final contract actually represents a bargain of sorts, if you can believe that. Back in July, Snyder estimated it would cost $3 million to fully staff all schools.

Gaylord, it appears, drove a hard bargain.

Initially, for example, the Sheriff's Office had presented an estimate which included nearly $1 million for new patrol vehicles — which seemed outrageous, though as School Board president Christia Li Roberts explained to me at the time, the new SROs are new hires, and they need vehicles to serve as their "mobile office."

But some of the patrol vehicles will only be used when school's in session. What happens to them over the summer? Should the district foot the entire bill for vehicles that won't be used for school purposes the entire year?

Ultimately, instead of buying the vehicles, the district will lease them — and only pay 75 percent of the insurance and maintenance costs.

Ah, the nuts and bolts of making our schools safer.

Snyder, at the early October school board meeting, said he was not looking "to make a dollar off parents' tax dollars ... we are not going to nickel and dime you." From the looks of the final contract, he made good on that vow.

That doesn't mean the district got off cheap, however.

The state, county and the district itself all kicked in to foot the security bill. The state's contribution fell far short of the actual cost; the county contributed $600,000 — the same amount it gave last year, even though costs rose.

The balance comes from the district, which doesn't exactly have large piles of extra money sitting around…

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