Though the Volusia County Council has opted not to help fund seven new school resource deputies for middle schools, Volusia County Schools is moving forward anyway — but its chief financial officer said the council's denial disregarded its shared responsibility with the district to fund school safety, as outlined by state statutes.
In a statement from CFO Todd Seis, released by the school district on Friday, Nov. 17, he wrote that Deputy Superintendent Rachel Hazel's and Interim Chief Operating Officer Patty Corr's request at the Nov. 7 County Council meeting was 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," Seis said.
At the Nov. 7 meeting, the district was asking the council to support a funding request of $342,905.11 to fund school resource deputies and one supervising school resource sergeant at Creekside Middle School, Deltona Middle School, Galaxy Middle School, Heritage Middle School, Holly Hill School, Silver Sands Middle School and Southwestern Middle School.
This came after the Volusia County School Board submitted a $762,011.35 request to the Volusia Sheriff's Office for the deputies. According to the district's contract with VSO, the school board is responsible for 55% of the total costs for school resource deputies with VSO bearing the remaining 45%. Per Florida law, VSO can bill the county for services rendered or performed for governmental agencies, which includes the school district.
Seis criticized Volusia County Attorney Mike Dyer in his statement, saying that as Dyer previously served as an attorney for the school board, he should have been aware of the legal framework surrounding funding law enforcement officers for schools.
"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,'" Seis said. "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."
Seis said in his statement that he will be asking the school board and school board attorney to obtain a legal opinion from the Florida Attorney General's office to resolve the conflict with the county.
Michael Ryan, Volusia County director of Community Information, said in a statement to the Observer that neither Seis nor VCS Superintendent Carmen Balgobin attended the Nov. 7 meeting.
"The Volusia County Council strongly felt the additional school resource officers should be funded by the school district and voted unanimously to respect the agreements the district has with the cities that agreed to financially contribute to the service," Ryan said. "Unfortunately, neither Mr. Seis, the school district’s chief financial officer, nor the superintendent chose to attend the County Council meeting and no one representing the school district could adequately answer questions regarding the school district’s financial deficit and funding obligation to account for student safety.”
Seis was attending the Florida School Finance Officers Association conference.
The County Council cited two main reasons for denying funding: First, that the request came two late after the budget process and second, it argued that VCS had enough money in its budget reserves to cover the cost of additional school resource deputies.
Seis said the safety of Volusia County children "is a continuous priority and cannot be confined within fiscal calendars or organizational boundaries."
"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," Seis said. "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."
He also criticized County Councilman Troy Kent's suggestion to use state-issued dollars from the Florida Education Finance Programs to fund the additional school resource deputies.
"His background in educational leadership should have educated him that these funds are strictly for educational purposes," Seis said. "Such a proposal, no matter how serious, not only undermines his experience but also misrepresents the legal constraints governing school finances."
In response, Kent told the Observer in a statement that he lives "by the sentiment that actions speak louder than words."
"The Volusia County School District Chief Financial Officer Todd Seis talks about how important school safety is to him, yet, he nor Superintendent Balgobin were in attendance at the Nov. 7th County Council meeting," Kent said. "What was more important than the safety of our children? Mr. Seis was attending a conference, one that he attends twice a year."
He also said that he asked the school district to used unassigned general fund reserves to fund the additional school resource deputies, not use FEFP funds.
"As the District 4 representative, I have high expectations when anyone comes before the council asking for your hard earned tax dollars," he said. "I was disappointed for the school district when I watched their presentation that was riddled with mistakes that the school district and Chief Financial Officer Todd Seis created."
Kent added that he stands by his and his fellow councilmen's unanimous decision to deny the funding.
"We all want safe schools, just as we want safe streets and safe neighborhoods," he said. "The question is, 'Whose duty is it to pay for this safety?' In the case of schools, if the state legislature wanted county government to pay for a certain percentage of school security costs, it very easily could have decided as much. I hope anyone who reads the statute cited in this statement understands the differences in definition of the words 'may' and 'shall' because Chief Financial Officer Todd Seis clearly does not."