DELAND — With state funding falling short of what's needed, the Volusia County Council has been asked to pay $2 million to help the school district meet a new state requirement and put resource officers in all 71 public schools.
The funding request — submitted in a letter by School Board member Carl Persis ahead of Tuesday's council meeting — will be voted on at a later council meeting. Before then, the council wants the formal request to come from the School Board as a whole.
While County Manager Jim Dinneen told council members he can find money in the budget that would have otherwise gone into reserves, Sheriff Mike Chitwood has budget concerns of his own. And with more than 40 vacant positions already, he worries about his ability to put a deputy in every school even if the county approves the deal.
After the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the Legislature approved a plan partly aimed at adding more school resource officers — without providing the funding to pay for them, leaving districts across the state scrambling to fulfill the requirement.
Volusia now has 26 resource officers and estimates it would cost $6.4 million to hire another 45. The state gave the district $2 million.
Persis, a former Volusia councilman, turned to the county for help bridging the difference.
"I hope you and council members agree there are few things more important than the safety of our children," he wrote in the letter to Dinneen. "By pooling our resources, we will be able to provide each school with a professional level of protection. Our children deserve nothing less."
Between state demands for the extra security, teachers and staff members' expectation of raises and a paltry increase in the base student allocation to help pay for those raises, Persis said the district is in "budget crisis mode."
[READ: ‘Budget crisis mode’: $4M shortfall looming over Volusia schools]
But if the council agrees to help fund the new officers, the Sheriff's Office could find itself in a similar bind. Chitwood said he fully supports the idea of putting an armed officer in every school, but deputy vacancies and his budget will make it all but impossible to accomplish, he said.
"Reality is, we have 43 (deputy) vacancies now and we would have to hire an additional 58. Not possible," he said in a text message. "Plus we would need to increase payroll by about $8.5 million."
Volusia County also has frets about its budget. For example, a homestead exemption referendum that will be on the November ballot could cause the county to lose roughly $17.8 million in revenue a year if it's approved by voters.
Councilwoman Deb Denys said, "As interested as I am in this, I personally don't want to look at it if we are going to take (the money) from any other project, or if it's going to affect" property tax rates or the county's effort to be debt-free in the general fund.
County Manager Dinneen said it could be done without those impacts, but it would require "moving things around" and a written agreement with the School Board.
"We never just find money, we redirect it from other things. I don't have money sitting around some place," Dinneen said. "Two million is nothing to sneeze at, but I think we can make it work."
More details would be presented when the council votes on the matter.
Unlike counties and cities that have greater control over their budgets, school boards largely depend on the Legislature to dictate the funding they receive — and often how they will spend it.
Volusia’s preliminary budget starts with a $4.2 million deficit, which is partially the result of rising costs for things like health insurance, fuel and required allocations to charter schools and the Florida retirement system. That figure also includes a 1 percent raise for employees — which accounts for $3.3 million.
The district received $2.09 million toward meeting the state’s new requirement to have a security guard or armed staffer at every school, but it's not enough to hire the number of officers needed. A cheaper alternative would be to opt into the state’s Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program — named for a coach who was killed in the Parkland shooting — that would allow certain staff members to be armed on a campus.
While Volusia school board members have yet to vote on participating in the program, more than one has spoken against the idea that few districts across the state have signed on for.
Councilwoman Heather Post, a former law enforcement officer, is among the critics of arming school personnel. During her closing comments, she criticized state lawmakers for putting $400 million that could have gone toward other education initiatives toward this one, which she feels is the wrong call.
"Certainly the safety of our students is very important and our number one priority, but I don’t see putting a law enforcement officer at each school is really going to make that much of a difference," she said. "I see it as a knee-jerk reaction and a Band-Aid that is not going to make any impact whatsoever."
It puts her and other council members in a tough predicament, she said.
"I am absolutely not for giving the money for this reason, but if the School Board has to pay this money out and there is no other option ... then we need to support the schools and make sure the kids have what they need."