MCSO to BOCC: Protecting Our Students is Expensive, But We Have a Plan


From the Madison County Sheriff’s Office:

The Madison County Sheriff’s Office takes pride in being transparent. We strive to provide our citizens with the most current and accurate information we have available. It is our belief that a well-informed community is a safer community.

Below is a letter addressed to the Madison County Board of County Commissioners that has also been provided to our Superintendent, Dr. Karen Pickles, from Sheriff Ben Stewart regarding his stance and understanding of the new State Mandated School Safety Officer requirement.

May 18, 2018

Wayne Vickers
Chairman Madison County Board of Commissioners
229 SW Pinckney Street
Madison, FL 32340

Mr. Chairman:

This is to summarize past discussions and the current status of our efforts to fulfill the requirements of Senate Bill 7026, also referred to as the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.” This bill, which was signed into law by Governor Scott on March 9, 2018, contains many mandates which affect our County. Many of the mandates affect the school district exclusively, however several include the Sheriff’s Office as well.

One specific requirement of this law is that it mandates that a “school safety officer” be placed in each qualifying school. It is our understanding that these mandates require the Sheriff of each county along with the School Superintendent to agree upon utilizing either School Resource Deputies, the guardian program, establishment of the school district’s own school safety officers employed by the school, or some combination thereof to fulfill the school safety officer requirement. This requirement is expected to be in place at each qualifying school prior to the start of the 2018 -2019 school year.

The bill reports to provide a safe schools reoccurring allocation of $387,883.00 to the Madison County School Board to help fund this mandate, however this figure may be in question. I am addressing this letter to the Madison County Board of Commissioners because you are the funding source for the Sheriff’s Office which will require re-imbursement negotiations with the School Board to fund this safe schools mandate.
The language of the law requires “district school boards to establish or assign safe school officers at each district school facility within the district.” (Line 223 through 225.)

It has been determined by our School Superintendent, Doctor Karen Pickles, that there are seven qualifying schools in the Madison County district. These schools are Madison County High, Madison County Central, Lee Elementary, Pinetta Elementary, Greenville Elementary, James Madison Preparatory High, and Madison Creative Arts Academy. Madison County Central has more than one thousand students which indicates the need for two “safe school officers.”

The Sheriff’s Office currently employs two School Resource Officers which are located at Madison County High School and Madison County Central School. The Sheriff’s Office receives 125,000.00 per year in re-imbursement costs from the school district for the salaries and benefits of the two School Resource Deputies. The Sheriff’s Office currently pays for the operational costs to include vehicles, equipment, fuel, maintenance, supervision, and liability insurance for the two School Resource Deputies.

Regarding the requirements of Senate Bill 7026, I am advising that the safest and most effective method to protect the schools in Madison County would be to have a School Resource Deputy assigned to each school with two deputies being assigned to Madison Central. To accomplish this it would take a minimum of six new School Resource Deputies for a total of eight. The additional cost would be approximately $522,000.00 for a total of 647,000.00 needed to fund the School Resource Deputies. The break down for each new position would be approximately 53,000.00 in salary and benefits and approximately 34,000.00 for startup costs. Startup costs include a vehicle, uniforms, weapons, body camera, radios and liability insurance.

Unfortunately, the safe schools allotment for Madison County is approximately 387,000.00, which leaves quite a shortfall. Preliminary meetings with School Superintendent Doctor Karen Pickles as well as many other school representatives have indicated that this shortfall is unsurmountable and will result in a total failure of agreement as required by the language of the law.

In an effort to protect our students as proficiently as possible and accomplish the mandates of Senate Bill 7026, Doctor Pickles and my staff have tentatively settled on a compromise plan that we feel should be attainable. This plan would be to place additional School Resource Deputies at our most vulnerable schools during the first year. We feel that Greenville, Pinetta, and Lee Elementary Schools should have School Resource Deputies assigned first because of their locations and difficulty of response. Madison Creative Arts Academy and James Madison Preparatory High are located in proximity to the Sheriff’s Office and Madison Police Department as well as the locations of the current School Resource Deputies. Madison County Central currently has one deputy which makes the second position less of a critical priority. This would be the initial plan with the
understanding that a School Resource Deputy position would be revisited for the other positions as soon as funding is available. The Guardian program could also be used to supplement these shortfalls in the interim, however it is with much trepidation that we move forward with that process. The addition of three School Resource Deputies would drop the initial costs to approximately $260,000.00, for a total of approximately $385,000.00 for all five School Resource Deputies.

Finally, as Sheriff of Madison County I want to remind you that I do not have a choice regarding Senate Bill 7026 other than to fulfill its mandates as required by Florida Statutes. Madison County Sheriff’s Office staff, Doctor Karen Pickles, and many others have worked diligently in exploring every practical avenue to respond to this law. Unfortunately, the school safety mandates are only part of many mandates involved with this law of which have required much effort to prepare for.

As I write this letter The Sheriff’s Office is also preparing our budget which has to be submitted by June 1st, 2018. This budget will include the figures which represent the compromise plan from above. I understand that there will be subsequent negotiations with the Madison County School District as well as our own budget workshops before these costs are finalized. We are still facing the selection, hiring, training, equipping, and insuring of new deputies as well as a myriad of other issues to be resolved as to the guardian program before the start of the school year in August. In any event the above described resolutions regarding the school safety portion of Senate Bill 7026 are the best that I can recommend at this time.


Benjamin Stewart
Sheriff of Madison County

Cc: Doctor Karen Pickles, Madison County School Superintendent
Hon. Susie Williamson, Madison County School Board Chair
Bo Hardee, Esq. for Madison Creative Arts Academy and James Madison High
Tommy Reeves, Esq. for Madison County Board of Commissioners
Emerald Greene, Editor Madison County Carrier