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Guest Commentary: More collaboration needed regarding school safety | #schoolsaftey

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Editor, The Beacon:

As the chief financial officer for Volusia County Schools, I feel compelled to address the recent decision of the Volusia County Council regarding the funding of additional school resource deputies and the overall approach toward the safety of Volusia County children and citizens.

In a recent Volusia County Council meeting, our Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rachel Hazel and Interim Chief Operating Officer Patty Corr presented a well-prepared case for additional funding to enhance the safety of our middle schools. However, their earnest efforts were met with a surprising level of disrespect and disregard by the County Council. Such unprofessional conduct not only undermines our collaborative efforts, but is also an affront to the dedicated professionals working tirelessly for the safety of our children.

This lack of collaboration was further evident in the council’s disregard for the shared responsibility in funding school safety, as outlined in Florida Statute 1006.12. Notably, County Attorney Michael “Mike” Dyer, who previously served as an attorney for the Volusia County School Board, should have been particularly aware of this legal framework. His guidance seemed to be missing from this meeting, but news outlets reported Mr. Dyer stating, “The school district is financially responsible for paying for law enforcement officers at schools.”

Although this is a partially true statement, it left off some important information as addressed in Florida Statute 1006.12(2)(d) that states: “A district school board may enter into mutual aid agreements with one or more law enforcement agencies as provided in chapter 23. A school safety officer’s salary may be paid jointly by the district school board and the law enforcement agency, as mutually agreed to.”

I question why this entire language in the statute was not provided to all council members by their attorney? Especially, when the safety of our Volusia County children is at stake.

The council also criticized the timing of our funding request. However, Volusia County children’s safety is a continuous priority and cannot be confined within fiscal calendars or organizational boundaries.

We had verified that the necessary funds could be made available with the approval of the County Council. These additional funding requests after the approval of the annual budget are normal operating procedures for any organization that meticulously plans for contingencies within their budgets while maintaining a reserve fund balance.

I question why Volusia County even bothered budgeting a General Fund Reserve called “Address unexpected one-time priority expenditures” of $3.3 million? So, suggesting that accommodating our request is unfeasible due to timing blatantly ignores the well-established fiscal practice of planning for unexpected needs and is without merit. Especially ones as crucial as the safety of our children.

Council Member Troy Kent’s flippant suggestion to divert our Florida Education Finance Programs (FEFP) funds we receive from the State to non-educational entities was startling. His background in educational leadership should have educated him that these funds are strictly for educational purposes. Such a proposal, no matter how serious, not only undermines his experience, but also misrepresents the legal constraints governing school finances.

Furthermore, the County, with a fund balance of approximately $71.2 million, insists that our school district, which operates on a larger scale and with a more modest fund-balance reserve of about $55.7 million, should single-handedly finance the additional resource deputies. This stance negates the fact that our district, despite being larger, maintains a leaner reserve in our general fund, highlighting a disparity in the distribution of financial responsibilities.

I also wish to express my admiration for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, under Sheriff Mike Chitwood, for their commitment to identifying critical safety needs for Volusia County Schools. The initiative to add school resource deputies to seven additional middle schools is crucial.

The council’s dismissal of this initiative not only undermines children’s safety but also disrespects the professional judgment of their own Sheriff’s Department.

Regarding my absence from the last council meeting, it was due to my attendance at the Florida School Finance Officers Association conference. This event was crucial for staying updated with statutory and accounting changes, and is only held biannually. All necessary financial information had been provided to the council members in advance of the meeting.

In conclusion, the actions and attitudes of the council reflect a concerning lack of respect and understanding of our shared responsibilities in ensuring children’s safety in the county. As the CFO of Volusia County Schools, I advocate for a collaborative and professional approach to addressing these critical issues. I will also be requesting guidance from the Volusia County School Board and the board attorney to obtain a legal opinion from the Florida Attorney General’s Office to resolve this conflict.

Regardless, the district is moving forward to secure additional deputies without the support and shared responsibility of the Volusia County Council, as called for in Florida Statutes 1006.12.

Todd Seis

Chief Financial Officer

Volusia County Schools

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