CRESTVIEW — Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley on Tuesday asked county commissioners to help pay a portion of the $1.5 million needed to keep deputies in every elementary school through the end of June.
Ashley was joined by Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Jackson when he made his request at the board’s meeting.
The proposal drew support from Commissioners Kelly Windes, Nathan Boyles and Wayne Harris, but the board postponed a vote until Jan. 22.
Ashley told commissioners he “never thought he’d see the day” when he had to ask for money to protect school children “from the crime of our society.”
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., occurred Dec. 14. Ashley placed school resource officers in each of the county’s elementary schools Dec. 17.
“I took officers off of patrol,” Ashley said. “I took officers off of the traffic unit. … I took officers off of court security.”
Now he’s looking for a way to pay for that shuffle.
“I’m just looking for solutions … and the best way to sustain school resource officers in our schools,” Ashley said.
Under his plan, the county and the school district each would pay $565,000 to fund the cost of the school resource officers. Ashley agreed to offset the county’s portion with $300,000 in state forfeiture funds, which would leave the county responsible for $265,000.
Until he can hire the 26 positions he needs, several specialty units such as beach patrol, traffic, court security and K-9 will operate with fewer deputies, Ashley told the board.
Harris suggested the board take more time to discuss the proposal, which was presented to commissioners for the first time Tuesday night.
“Quite honestly, this is going to come out of reserves, and man, we just keep chipping away at that,” he said. “We’re going to have to be creative about this.”
Harris expressed frustration at the need for such an expense.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” he said. “I think we’re over-reacting, but as soon as I say that, something happens and then you’re under-reacting. … I think the public is going to demand that we do it, and I understand that.”
Commissioner Dave Parisot said he sees the funding of the school deputies as primarily a school district issue.
He noted that “nothing has changed in Okaloosa County since the school tragedy in Connecticut.”
“We’ve got the same schools,” Parisot said. “We’ve got the same students. We’ve got the same parents.”
He questioned the usefulness of a school resource officer as a preventive and protective measure.
“A law enforcement officer is one person,” said Parisot, who said that a deputy can’t be present at all entrances to an elementary school.
Parisot also told Ashley his agency should assume more of the financial burden of the cost of the deputies.
Windes voiced full support for Ashley’s plan.
“This is public safety,” he said. “This is our most precious resource we’re talking about. I don’t think we’re over-reacting at all on this issue.”
He said he has confidence that the School Board will do its best to pay its share of the cost.
Jackson, who is preparing to make the same request to the School Board, said the safety of local school children was her top priority.
“Please consider this. … Make it just about children,” she said. “I stand with the sheriff 100 percent.”
Ashley, who wants to keep deputies in elementary schools in the future, also presented the board with a variety of long-term funding options. They included increasing property taxes, sales taxes and using monthly utility franchise fees.
“It’s going to take an effort by the Board of County Commissioners, by the School Board and the state not to hurt everybody’s budget,” he said.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.