CITRUS COUNTY, Fla.-- With kids going back to school in just a few days in Citrus County, the sheriff has not agreed to a contract with the school board and county commission to provide SROs.
Now, the district is moving forward with creating their own police department.
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- Sheriff says it's illegal
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Sheriff Mike Prendergast said he has an issue with two requirements in that contract. One requires federal, nonprofit, and state grant money he receives to be reallocated between the agencies, and the other would require his agency to have an additional audit each year.
He says it is illegal.
"I'm not going to compromise on having the safest schools in Florida when the money that I can go out and get to help me do that job. I'm not going to give it to the school board to paint stripes on parking lots, and I'm not going to give that money to pave roads to nowhere for the county commission to re-direct that money," Sheriff Prendergast said.
"My budget is around $30 million. You tell me where you are going to find the fat in that budget especially when for decades this agency has been underfunded and not been provided the proper budget that it needs to do the job we're required to do," he added.
The sheriff specifically referred to a line in SB 7026 that says "Any additional funds appropriated to this allocation in the 2018-2019 fiscal year to the school resource officer program establish pursuant to s. 1006.12 shall be used exclusively for employing or contracting for school resource officers, which shall be in addition to the number of officers employed or contracted for in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. "
But district leaders do not agree with the sheriff’s interpretation of that portion of the law.
"If three different parties are funding the school resource officers then that could proportionately come back to those three agencies,” Cheri Cernich, Citrus County School District Director of Risk Management, said.
"I believe that transparency of public funds is a good thing. I’m not sure why there would be an issue with that. And then dividing the money proportionately is a fair way to go about it should there be additional funding," she added.
The school board has said the SRO program is their first choice, but in case that did not happen they have started to move forward with the development of a District Police Department. Cernich said the department would have a police chief and 22 sworn law enforcement officers to cover each school.
The superintendent released a statement late Thursday afternoon and said the development of the District Police Department would take several months. She also said the district has asked the Board of County commissioners to reallocate the funds they set aside for the SRO program to go to the school district to help them create the District Police Department.
Sheriff Prendergast said if the school board and commissioners are willing to remove the grant money and audit requirements from the contract, he'd sign it. But, district representatives are standing by their requests.
"We have made that clear a couple of weeks ago that those two things needed to be in the contract. We've agreed to it, the county has agreed to it, so I don't see us going forward without those two items in the contract," Cernich said.
"We've got the right formula here. The bureaucrats need to get the hell out of the way because bureaucracy is what causes problems and leads to people getting injured," Sheriff Prendergast explained.
As for what parents and students can expect when school starts next week, the sheriff said he does plan to have deputies at the schools on Monday.
The district said they haven’t gotten that confirmation in writing so they do have a backup plan with sworn law enforcement officers to ensure every school is covered while they work to organize a District Police Department.