Workshop, special meeting Monday
The Gulf County School Board and Sheriff Mike Harrison are scheduled to workshop issues surrounding whether the district moves forward with arming selected staff.
The Monday workshop, at least in part, will be under executive session, closed to the public.
Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said he will make public the board’s decisions at is moves forward, but some details, he also noted, are likely be kept out of the public domain.
Norton, also made it clear on Tuesday that he intends to recommend the district apply to the state for inclusion in what is known as the “Guardian” program.
That program, along with sweeping legislation pertaining to school safety, was passed in the final weeks of the Florida Legislature’s annual session early this year, coming in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 Parkland school massacre.
The “Guardian” program allows for districts to access state dollars to train and arm selected staff within the schools.
Districts have until July 1 and the beginning of the new fiscal year to notify the state of their participation.
Staff members selected to be armed would have to undergo a mental health evaluation and firearms training.
At that point that would effectively become “special deputies”, Norton said, and allowed to brandish their firearm in the event of a school shooting or similar tragedy.
The law has fueled a statewide debate which in part is playing out at local levels.
Norton said the passage of the law has become something of a Second Amendment issue; the National Rifle Association is suing to overturn the law.
Norton’s constituency in Gulf County, he added, is strongly and overwhelmingly pro-Second Amendment.
Norton told board members Tuesday that he would recommend joining the “Guardian” program.
“I would hope the district would pursue that,” Norton said.
On the other hand, law enforcement officials statewide have expressed reservations about arming private citizens in the schools and have urged caution in moving ahead.
“There is a debate about how all this works together,” Norton said.
The statewide sheriff’s association, additionally, urged that all local discussions pertaining to the law, the arming of school staff and what measures to be taken by law enforcement and the district be taken up behind closed doors.
“Law enforcement desires meeting in executive session,” said Billy Hoover, who has been appointed as the district’s school safety officer and who just returned from a statewide conference on the law.
“There are things we would do that we don’t want to talk about in public,” Norton added.
In the meantime, the school safety measures are already becoming evident in personnel issues discussed Tuesday.
Norton said that working with Harrison, and using some school safety dollars from the state, the district will have a school resource officer in each of the four schools for the 2018-2019 year.
Sgt. Stacey Strickland, the SRO at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, will be, in effect, a fifth SRO operating in a supervisory capacity, Norton added.
In addition, using school safety dollars the district will seek to hire two new mental health counselors, one for each end of the county.
The goal, said Martha Weimorts, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services, addressing issues and situations before they become out of hand.
In one bit of irony during Tuesday’s school board meeting, which fell during National Teacher Apprecation Week and on Teacher Appreciation Day, brought the annual budgetary rite of passage called contract non-renewal.
Every year, each district in the state goes through a similar exercise, eliminating contracts for teachers and employees not on continuing contracts.
And since 2010, no new teacher could achieve continuing contract status, which had previously arrived after year three of employment.
So, the lists of teachers and staff whose contracts were not renewed was a lengthy one, 62 instructional employees and 57 non-instructional employees.
Considering the district’s workforce is in round figures roughly 300 employees, that amounts to more than a third of the workforce.
However, the vast majority of those employee contracts will be renewed within the coming month as the school board adopts millage rates and a budget.
The contract dance is necessitated by how Florida budgets schools; fiscal years begin in July 1 but local districts have yet to even receive final revenue numbers from the state.
What is known about the operating revenue, is it will be squeezed after state lawmakers budgeted on increase to base student funding of just 47 cents, a move much criticized by school officials around Florida.
Sissy Worley, the district’s financial officer, has already informed the board that there is less money for the general fund as last year.
All of the contract movement also takes place while the district is wrestling with, Norton said, roughly 25 positions which will either need to be created (an additional sixth grade at PSJES) or filled as the district has seen multiple resignations effective at the end of the school year.