A SPECIAL JOINT MEETING/SAFETY SUMMIT
WITH THE LAKE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD
JUNE 4, 2008
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a Special Joint Meeting with the Lake County School Board, municipal government officials, and law enforcement officers on Wednesday, June 4, 2008, at 1:00 p.m.., in the Magnolia Room, Lake-Sumter Community College, Leesburg, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Welton G. Cadwell, Chairman; Jennifer Hill, Vice Chairman; Debbie Stivender; Elaine Renick; and Linda Stewart. Lake County School Board Members present were Larry Metz, Chairman; Kyleen Fischer, Vice Chairperson; Scott Strong; Cindy Barrow; and Jimmy Conner. Others present were Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, County Attorney; Cindy Hall, County Manager; Wendy Taylor, Executive Office Manager, County Manager’s Office; Doug Krueger, Lake County Budget Director; Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk; Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders; Sgt. Chris Bell, Umatilla P.D.; Capt. Todd Luce, Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO); Capt. Earll Bean, Leesburg P.D.; Officer Keith Reyes, School Resource Officer, Lady Lake P.D.; Mark Isom, Director of Public Safety, City of Fruitland Park; Steve Graham, Clermont Police Chief.; Chief Steve Allen, Mascotte P.D.; Lt. Jesse Baker, Groveland P.D.; Chief Curtis Robbins, Howey-in-the-Hills P.D.; Wayne S. Longo, LCSO; George Whittaker, Leesburg P.D.; Paula Crow, Community Resource Officer, Tavares P.D.; Fred Cobb, Director of Public Safety, City of Eustis; Randy Scoggins, Chief of Police, Mount Dora P.D.; John Drury, Tavares City Administrator; Paul Berg, Eustis City Manager; Lori Humphrey, Project Manager, Lake County Shared Services Network; B. Grassel, Lake County Education Association President; Ralph Bowers, Fruitland Park City Manager; Ed Smyth, Deputy City Manager, Leesburg; Lynn Jones, Safe Schools Supervisor, Lake County Schools; Pernell Mitchell, Security Manager for Lake County Schools; Carol MacLeod, Chief Financial Officer, Lake County Schools; Steve Johnson, School Board Attorney; Natalie Challenger, Clerk to the School Board; and Anna Cowin, Superintendent, Lake County Schools.
CALL TO ORDER, MOMENT OF SILENCE, AND PLEDGE
Mr. Larry Metz, Chairman, Lake County School Board, called the meeting to order, called for a moment of silence, and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
INTRODUCTIONS AND OPENING COMMENTS
Mr. Metz thanked everyone for being there at the joint special meeting and expressed appreciation for the graciousness of Lake-Sumter Community College (LSCC) for allowing them to use the Magnolia Room, stating that he would be sending a letter to Dr. Charles Mojock, President of LSCC, expressing their thanks for that. He welcomed everyone and asked those who would be participating in the discussion to introduce themselves. He stated that the School Board of Lake County wanted to bring everyone together there to review their School Resource Deputy Program and to discuss with their partners in the community ways to strengthen that program.
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER PROGRAM REVIEW
Ms. Kyleen Fischer, Vice Chairperson, Lake County School Board stated that School Board Member Scott Strong brought to their attention the fact that they could benefit from open dialogue to discuss the needs of the Lake County School System. She commented that they understood that it took that partnership to make an effective safe plan for the County.
Mr. Pernell Mitchell, Security Manager for Lake County Schools, mentioned that some of the law enforcement executives in attendance at the meeting had served in the capacity of school resource officers and DARE instructors. He explained that the school resource officer program was a community policing approach practiced in a school environment which had a nationally recommended school population of 800 to 1600 students. He commented that some of the benefits of the school resource officers (SRO) were that they were familiar with the layout of the campus, the student population, and the staff; knew who belonged and did not belong on campus; and knew what problems have already taken place on campus and what they needed to do to be proactive. He related that the SRO had three main functions, which were as a law enforcement officer, teacher, and counselor, and they were very carefully selected for their position. He further noted that they would need to be someone who was willing to work with children, was a positive role model, and had an approachable demeanor. He also commented that they were very fortunate to be working with the Sheriff’s Department and believed that they had a very strong program, with 26 deputies that the Sheriff’s Office was currently providing on the campuses. He also expressed appreciation to the Town of Lady Lake for putting an officer in the Villages Elementary School. He commented that the schools received a tremendous benefit from the presence of officers on campus, but law enforcement also was receiving a tremendous benefit of investigative tools and information from students on crimes occurring out in the community which helped solve cases. He stated that they wanted to make sure they were all on the same page to ensure that this very valuable program continued in Lake County.
Sheriff Gary Borders stated that they had a deputy sheriff in every middle and high school in the County, with some schools having more than one, and currently they had 24 deputies under contract with the School Board and one deputy that was on a grant. He pointed out that there were three sergeants, one lieutenant, and three canine deputies assigned to the schools that were not contracted with the School Board and that the Sheriff’s Office paid for as supervisors and as relief for the school resource deputies that were on vacation or sick. He opined that having deputy sheriffs in the schools was definitely a valuable and necessary program and that they were great liaisons between the school itself and the Sheriff’s Office, with the safety of the schools being paramount. He commented that they have found it to be very successful, and they were very particular about who they selected as the school resource deputy and were very proud of this unit. He also noted that the other numbers that were not included were the five officers that taught the DARE program in the elementary schools throughout the County that were funded by the Sheriff’s Office and drug seized money. He acknowledged that they received some good intelligence and investigative tools from this program, and they wanted the students to form good relationships with deputies.
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER PROGRAM FUNDING SOURCES FOR FY 2008-09
Ms. Fischer emphasized that all of the School Board members valued the school resource officers, but commented that funding was an issue. She related that Commr. Cadwell came to the Board with a written request and had dialogue with Mr. Metz regarding this issue.
Commr. Cadwell commented that the County Commission had been willing partners all along in this and that there was never a question of whether they had the same goal of safe schools in mind. He pointed out that because of budget constraints, they would have to find new, innovative ways of operating that were different than what they had done in the past. He opined that he thought that it would be a benefit and would make sense for local police officers to be in the high schools. He mentioned that the Sheriff submitted his budget for next year, which contained only a four percent increase that would probably not even cover the increase in the fuel cost.
Ms. Carol MacLeod, Chief Financial Officer for Lake County Schools, stated that they received funding to help support this program through the Safe Schools program that was funded through the Florida Legislature. She reported that they currently were paying approximately half the cost of the salary and benefits of the sheriff’s deputies that were under contract to be on their campus, which was currently a total of about $825,000. She stated that they were provided only approximately $525,000 under the Safe Schools program, with the School Board’s general operating fund absorbing the other $300,000. She pointed out that the School Board was experiencing the same budget cuts that the County Commission was.
Ms. Lynn Jones, Supervisor of the Safe Schools program, handed out a chart which showed the number and percentages of students in middle and high school that resided in the city limits in each of the municipalities. The second chart in the handout showed that same information on the right side of the pie chart, with the left side showing the number of students from the unincorporated area, which made up 52 percent of the total number of children attending Lake County middle and high schools. The third chart looked at a model showing a potential way of sharing costs of the school resource officer pro-rated between the County Commission, the School Board, and the municipalities using the percentages presented in the previous chart. She also reported that they contacted six surrounding counties to look at the cost that their school districts were paying percentage-wise as well as looking at the cost and timeframe that it covered for the officers or deputies that they hired, and pointed out the handout illustrating this as well as other information related to this issue. She noted that in Seminole County, 50 percent of the yearly cost of the deputies, including salary, benefits, and training was paid, which was what Lake County’s district has paid in the past. She went on to report that Marion County paid 50 percent of the middle school SRO costs and 100 percent of the high school costs, and went through some of the other County’s statistics represented on the handout which showed a range between 50 and 100 percent, with Volusia County including vehicle expenses.
Ms. Cindy Hall, County Manager, clarified that the Sheriff’s budget position to them included $2,134,465 for the school resource officer program, which would come out to $85,000 per officer when divided by 25 officers. She commented that the figure she believed the School Board was working from was an initial estimate that came forward in a letter from the Chairman.
Sheriff Borders noted that those figures were based on what they currently were doing at the time that their budget was due last Friday.
Superintendent Anna Cowin clarified that the figures listed in the charts on the handouts only included salary and benefits, but not vehicles.
Ms. Hall specified that the total cost of the program for the current year was $1.9 million, of which the School Board paid $825,000. She noted that their numbers were a little different than the School Board’s because they were including the full cost of the deputies.
Ms. Fischer stated that the job today was to get to the real figure so that they could look at their budget and relate what the true figure would be.
Superintendent Cowin stated that she thought that the length of time should also be considered, since their school year was only 180 days.
Mr. Jimmy Conner, School Board member, asked what the school resource officers were doing during the time that school was not in session.
Sheriff Borders responded that when school was out, the school resource deputies were assigned to various parts of the Sheriff’s Office.
Mr. Conner inquired whether they negotiated in the past for just the 180 days of the school year or per the entire year.
Commr. Cadwell stated that he thought they negotiated for the year, because they normally would not need a lot of those deputies and would only hire a percentage of them.
Mr. Conner noted that Sheriff Borders did not have any objection to the municipalities being involved and stated that this might be an opportunity for the municipalities to look at what they would receive and what benefits they would derive. He commented that he thought this was one of the major points of discussion.
Commr. Cadwell stated that in his experience, he saw that having a contract with the School Board would give smaller police departments another officer that they might not be able to afford otherwise.
Mr. Scott Strong, School Board member, commented that they all participated in the community as stakeholders in this very important decision and their presence at this meeting indicated their desire to accomplish that goal as well to safeguard their community and students. He assured the participants that this was not a shakedown of their municipalities and County Commission, but an opportunity to partner to come up with a shared solution that they could all be a party to as well as an opportunity for the cities to know that this was available to them to help fund additional officers. He commented that this was a brainstorming and prioritizing session and that he understood that everyone else had finite budgets as well. He noted that if there was a shortage in funding, at some point decisions and cuts would have to be made.
Superintendent Cowin stated that their teachers worked a total of 196 days and asked the Sheriff if it would be possible to hire deputies just specifically for this purpose for that amount of time at a lower amount of money.
Sheriff Borders stated that he had not looked at that option, but every deputy sheriff that they had working for them was full time for a full year. He also mentioned that he did not think they were working summer school this year, but they have done that previously. He added that he would be reluctant to hire a deputy sheriff to work for 180 or 196 days.
Commr. Cadwell asked if anyone has looked at hiring security guards at the middle school level as a viable option.
Mr. Conner stated that unfortunately the culture has changed over the years, and he thought they were seeing the need for the deputies at the middle schools.
Mr. Mitchell commented that the school resource officers were not only law enforcement, but also counselors, teachers, and role models. He thought it would be a step backward to hire security officers and that it would take security away from the schools, especially in light of what had happened in Columbine and other recent events. He commented that in the times they were living in today, he would never want to take security away and always would want to add to it.
Ms. Cindy Barrow, School Board member, pointed out that there were other counties that actually had SRO’s in their elementary schools, but other than the Villages Elementary School, they had not requested that.
Mr. Metz noted that they appreciated all ideas coming to the table. He reiterated what Sheriff Borders stated earlier that they did not assign just anyone to their schools, and what he determined from visiting schools was that these SRO’s were an integral part of the staff of the school. He believed that having them there provided the continuity that would not be possible with a private security firm, and the level of training would be different. He appreciated the high level of expertise that the SRO’s currently had, and they would not want to lose that.
Mr. Mitchell explained that Seminole County has added security officers to their campus as an enhancement but not in lieu of their SRO program.
Commr. Cadwell commented that if they were not going to do anything to change the level of service and that the provider was going to be the Sheriff, the only other way that they could do that was to add additional partners.
Mr. Metz summarized that the current program employed just the Sheriff’s deputies. He commented that the unit cost was an issue for them, because even though they understood that using the full cost of the deputies made sense from a budget standpoint, their position would be to look into adjusting that to reflect the actual usage of the services to the schools for the school calendar and come up with a number that would reflect a more actual out-of-pocket expense that the presence at their schools would cost the Sheriff’s Office. He also recapped that they discussed the possibility of redoing the whole program with the participation of the municipalities so that they could put their own departmental personnel in the schools within their city boundaries, thereby removing some of the County’s costs.
Chief Mark Isom, Director of Public Safety, City of Fruitland Park, stated that he had a police officer visit the school three times a week in the elementary school, but he thought that the program needed to stay under the Sheriff to keep the continuity, uniformity, and consistency of the program in tact. He also pointed out that the S.R.O. has to be an experienced deputy that had the knowledge of how to deal with the students and that they would be dealing with only one entity with the Sheriff’s Office.
Ms. Fischer commented that she believes from listening to the comments at that meeting that they all felt that they have benefited by the standardized training that the Sheriff’s Department provides.
Mr. Conner commented that he did not think they should overlook the benefit to the cities of having their resource officers in their schools, and he thought that if there was an incident in the school within the city limits, the Sheriff’s deputy would be calling the city police department because of the jurisdictional issues. He also thought the police officers from the municipalities would get familiar with the students, learn about criminal activity, and get to know their community better by being at the schools. He further pointed out that it was city officials that gradually one by one left this program because of budget issues. He stated that he totally agreed that the Sheriff’s Office has done a marvelous job, but he thought it was unwise for the cities not to weigh the benefits they would get out of this program. He commented that after careful analysis, if the municipalities did not care to participate in the program, then that decision would be respected.
Chief Randy Scoggins of Mount Dora stated that he was speaking philosophically, since he could not speak for the City, but he thought that the municipalities could do a superb job of providing SRO’s that had the right education and training. He explained that there were national standards for the school resource program and that school resource officers generally adopted a management philosophy of a principal. He also commented that the students that went to Mount Dora Middle and High Schools were his residents that he responded to after 3:00 p.m., and he felt that he really did need to know what they were involved in. He pointed out that when he came there in 1999, for five years he attempted to put those SRO’s back under the Mount Dora P.D., but he was summarily spurned since the Sheriff at that time did not want to give that up. He mentioned that budgetarily he worked it out four or five years ago, but since then they have moved their priorities into some different enhancements, and he did not know if they could even consider doing that now. He assured the other chiefs of police that it was very doable, worked quite well, and jurisdictional issues were no more complicated than mutual aid. He also opined that it would be unreasonable to expect any police administrator to hire someone part time to do this, and he strongly emphasized that it was important to hire someone that was experienced, trained, and met educational standards and had the level of expertise that was needed.
Mr. John Drury, City Administrator for Tavares, mentioned that he also could not speak on behalf of his Board and that he was there to collect information and inform his Board of the discussions and options so that they could collectively make a decision as to what they believed would be in the best interest of their constituents. He commented that no matter who paid for the SRO program, the taxpayers would be paying the same amount of money they always had and they were just shifting who was collecting how much. He asked for clarity of whether they were talking about shifting the money distribution, changing the level of service, or reducing the cost.
Mr. Strong commented that the School Board had no discretion on the millage to be set or the amount to be assessed, and their funds have been significantly reduced.
Mr. Metz stated that he believed their intent was to have the current level of service continue in the middle and high schools. He noted that their initial goal was to address the cost sharing with the County, the unit cost of each deputy, and whether they were going to continue with the Sheriff’s deputies in their schools. He clarified that the second part of their effort was to try to broaden the participants to include those municipalities that had an interest in participating to use the other partners’ share of the cost to fund one of their own officers in the schools rather than the Sheriff’s deputy.
Sheriff Borders commented that some of the confusion regarding the numbers was that the school system’s budget used the starting deputy salaries, but the budget that the Sheriff’s Office turned in to the Board of County Commissioners used the actual pay of a lot of seasoned veterans that worked in the schools, which would make that number higher.
Mr. Metz commented that since they already had the officers identified, they could use the actual number, since they agreed that continuity was important.
Ms. MacLeod believed that they could use an average of the salaries that they were paying the SRO’s.
Ms. Laurie Humphrey, Project Manager, Lake County Shared Services Network, commented that the municipalities might be able to help pay for that deputy during the 180-day specific time frame.
Commr. Cadwell commented that they had to watch for double taxation issues, because citizens in the cities paid county taxes also.
Ms. Fischer asked Sheriff Borders whether there was a way that the municipalities could help in the expenditures with the extra curricular activities and sporting events. She also noted that they paid extra for the hours before and after school that students were still on campus.
Sheriff Borders stated that the schools paid them $30 per hour outside of the contract to cover sporting events, while the City of Umatilla charged $35 per hour for that.
Commr. Renick stated that she thought the timing of this discussion with the municipalities was a little bit suspect. She added that they were reaching out to them at a time when they were looking for money and commented that they were all in a budget crunch. She opined that if all they have decided to do by the end of this meeting was reach out to the cities, they have not accomplished anything. She also pointed out that in the long run, the citizens only cared about the safety of the students and not about whose budget it was coming out of.
Mr. Strong replied that they should give the municipalities an opportunity to weigh in on it and participate in it.
Superintendent Cowin asked if there was a way to eliminate the roving SRO’s or consolidating some of the services at the smaller schools, or if for some days the municipalities could come in and share that.
Sheriff Borders responded that they did not think they had enough SRO’s, which was why they additionally funded three canines, three sergeants, and a lieutenant, which the school system did not pay for. He also commented that they funded above and beyond the number of deputies that they contracted with because they felt that was needed to provide sufficient service.
Commr. Stewart opined that there was nothing more important in their County than their children, and she pointed out that even the municipalities that did not have high schools and middle schools within their borders benefited from SRO’s, because their students came back into their towns and cities better citizens because of the interaction with them. She believed that they should all find a way to work together to fund this program, and she believed partnering was the way to go.
Mr. Ralph Bowers, City Manager of Fruitland Park, stated that he did not think it would be received well by most elected officials at the local level if it was simply an attempt to shift the burden. He noted that right now the Sheriff was the easily identifiable person of responsibility, and if they blurred that relationship and started contracting with other organizations, they would be specifically responsible for incidents in the school. He commented that he did not think it was the thing they wanted to do.
Mr. Metz recapped that the Board of County Commissioners was committed to going back with the Sheriff to work through the numbers for salary, benefits and any other additional expenses that they were seeking and to look at the calendar to see how best that cost could be articulated and shared for the coming fiscal year. He also recapped that they decided not to reduce the level of service or to use anything but qualified law enforcement professionals. He reiterated that the School Board made it clear that they wanted to reach out to those cities that were interested in participating and seeing if they wanted to have any role in the school safety program. He asked Commr. Cadwell if he thought that they should have a special working group on this, designating one Board member and one Commissioner, as well as the Sheriff and anyone else who comes to the table.
Commr. Cadwell responded that would probably be the best way to do that, and the issue now was pretty small and came down to arithmetic.
Ms. Fischer pointed out that they just had a gang diversion committee meeting and that they had proliferation of gang activity in the south end of the county, with danger of it spreading to other parts of the county. She also commented that they were serious about making sure that students were safe and that they did everything they could do to ensure safety in the schools.
After Mr. Strong volunteered to be the designated member to work with the Board of County Commissioners on this issue, Mr. Metz appointed him to be the representative to the working group. He also clarified that Commr. Cadwell and Sheriff Borders also had volunteered to work on that group. He instructed any elected officials in any of the cities who would like to join that group to designate someone and contact Mr. Mitchell’s office with that person’s name so that they could get them on the contact list.
Chief Steve Graham, Clermont Police Chief, opined that they had to keep at least the current level of service for the school resource officer program and to even expand it, but he realized that in light of the budget issues they probably could not expand it at this time. He related that even though the Sheriff had deputies at East Ridge, his officers also visited the campus, and he deployed five or six of his officers during the last week of school. He summarized that it was a vital program, and they needed to keep it up.
Ms. Barrow asked Chief Graham to tell them a little bit about what he was seeing regarding gang activity in the South Lake area.
Chief Graham responded that they have seen a tremendous increase in juvenile gang activity in the last 12 to 18 months, and they have identified a few gangs that have already started to form and accrue in south Lake County. He related that in an earlier meeting today, he proposed that the Chiefs of Police and the Sheriff form a multi-agency gang task force, and he hoped in the next few months they could put that together and start coordinating some intelligence activity. He commented that other agencies that did not get in front of the problem quickly enough resulted in their gang task force turning into a violent crime task force.
Mr. Mitchell added that they have formed a community partnership from different entities all over the County, but the piece that they were missing was the participation of city police departments. He extended an invitation to any city that would like to join their task force, which looked at the complete and holistic solution, including bringing in community partners, people who could counsel young people, and assistance for families of gang members.
Mr. Paul Berg, Eustis City Manager, echoed the belief that the school resource officer program was a good and important program. He stated that he did not think there was any doubt that the cities could run a good program, but there were some obvious benefits such as training, consistency, management, and supervision in having that in a centralized capacity. He encouraged the two boards to try to find a way to figure this out.
Chief Isom commented that he also had officers at the school during the last week of school. He was concerned that if the cities decided to do the program, a few years down the road it would get kicked out from under them like what had happened before. He also opined that the Sheriff has done an excellent job with the training of the deputies for this program.
Mr. Mitchell announced that on July 28, they would have a workshop for training the trainers of gang identification and intervention for law enforcement, community partners, and faith-based organizations and that the trainer was coming in and working with the Safe Climate Coalition and the Shared Services Network. He also noted that there was a group of people from Lake County that would be going to a conference in Atlanta to receive the training so that they could come back and share with the constituents in Lake County information on how to identify and intervene with gang members.
Captain Todd Luce of the Sheriff’s Office announced that on June 18 and 19 at the Institute of Public Safety on Lane Park Cutoff, Tavares, they were having the Florida Gang Officers Association give a two-day class on gang identification and information sharing, which was open to law enforcement and school administrators.
Commr. Stivender stated that she was the liaison working with Ms. Humphrey and Ms. Fischer on the Safe Climate Coalition and the Shared Services Network and commented that they have done an excellent job and would continue to do so.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 2:45 p.m.
WELTON CADWELL, CHAIRMAN
NEIL KELLY, CLERK