BRADENTON -- In a Tuesday night meeting coinciding with the primary elections, the Manatee County School Board will consider a number of high-ticket action items: hiring a security company to provide armed guards in each elementary school; increasing the legal budget; and approving a contract with Compass healthcare.
Tuesday's meeting marks the first of the 2014-15 school year. On the same day, county voters have the chance to elect three board members
in this year's race. Current board members Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter are up for re-election, and will likely learn the results of their respective races while at the board meeting.
A county commission meeting scheduled for the same day as the primary was canceled after objections from different community groups.
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There was never any discussion of moving or canceling the school board meeting, board members said.
"Nobody on the board said anything," said board chair Julie Aranibar.
Armed security officers
As a result of an increased fund balance, the district examined hiring a private company to provide armed security in the district's elementary schools. On Tuesday, the board will consider a $1 million contract with Sarasota Security Patrol.
The district contracts with local law enforcement to provide student resources officers, commonly called SROs, in all the middle and high schools. There are no officers in elementary schools, except for Anna Maria Elementary. The Holmes Beach Police Department provides a security officer for that elementary school, free of charge.
At a recent board meeting, officials from the Holmes Beach Police Department asked the district to help share the cost of the SRO at the elementary school.
Bringing in additional SRO officers to all 33 elementary schools is too costly for the district, school district officials said. So the district is proposing bringing in private armed security officers. After reviewing a dozen responses to its request for proposal, the district is recommending the board approve hiring Sarasota Security Patrol for $1 million a year for the next three years. If approved by the board on Tuesday, the contract would go into effect Wednesday.
Sarasota Security Patrol is headquartered on Main Street in Sarasota, and is run by Chad Ritchie. In addition to providing armed security officers, the company also provides training, handles repossessions, conducts private investigations and manages parking lots. The company has been family- owned and operated since 1962.
"We've been going into school systems for many years," Ritchie said Friday. The company has worked with local universities and has worked in Sarasota County charter schools, Ritchie said.
Ritchie said about 90 percent of the officers who would staff Manatee schools are former law enforcement or military officials, and all of his employees have certifications for the state-mandated minimums.
"We run our department like a mini police department," he said.
The potential contract with the district has allowed Ritchie to hire 20 more local employees, he said. He said he expects to hire 10 more employees soon.
The proposal for armed security officers has met with objections from board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner, who has repeatedly called the armed security officers "rent-a-cops" and has tried to advocate for a different option.
Board member Barbara Harvey has butted heads with Miner, saying that any security in the schools is better than none.
The item is listed under Tuesday's consent agenda.
The board will consider a $384,000 contract with Compass Professional Health Services, a Dallas-based company that aims to bring down healthcare costs by increasing transparency.
Overall, the self-insured district covers nearly 10,000 people, approximately 4,600 of them employees. The company would charge $7 a month per employee enrolled in a district health insurance plan to provide two different types of services.
If approved Tuesday, the contract for the concierge service would begin Sept. 1.
At a workshop in July, David Toomey, president of Compass Care Engineering, presented the company's proposal to the board and was met with mixed reactions. Board members were interested in ways to save money, but did not seem fully sold on the proposal.
Although the company is based in Dallas, it has local ties. Richard Conard, a local doctor, brought the company to the Health Insurance Committee about four years ago for consideration, said Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association and a long-time member of the health insurance committee. At the time, the company was owned by Conard's son, Scott, Barber said. The district was not interested in the company at the time, Barber said.
After a request for information earlier this year, the health insurance committee asked the company for more information, Barber said. Compass is the only company that provides the type of concierge-level service the district was looking for, she said.
Company employees will be assigned a specialist to call with any questions or concerns. The specialist will be able to find clients qualified doctors to perform services at a low cost. The specialist will also be able to set appointments for clients. This is a great service for district employees, Barber said.
"They're busy helping everybody else all the time," Barber said.
Conard, who was a member of a committee involved in the superintendent search that chose Rick Mills, is not a member of the Health Insurance Committee. His son no longer owns the company. Conard could not be reached for comment on Friday.
"It was not an issue of concern," Barber said of the family connections.
The contract is listed under the consent agenda.
Increased legal budget
The board will also consider a proposal to approve an additional $45,000 for the legal services department above last year's budget.
Originally the board approved a staff budget for legal services of $148,000. Sniffen & Spellman, based in Tallahassee, provides legal services, including issues regarding employee discipline, defense of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges, and defense of unfair labor practices and arbitrations.
The district has spent about $98,000 of the originally approved budget, according to the item posted to the agenda. Additional invoices for work done before the end of the last fiscal year total more than $100,000 and prompted the proposed budget increase.
With the additional amount the board is expected to approve, the total budget for Sniffen & Spellman will increase to $194,000.
For the 2014-15 year, the tentative budget includes $235,000 for outside attorney fees, and an overall budget of $803,000 for the staff attorney office. The board, which retains its own lawyer, has $150,000 budgeted for legal services for the 2014-15 year, according to the current draft of the budget.
The contract is listed under the consent agenda.
Parent Information Center
The board will consider selling the Parent Information Center, located at 234 Manatee Ave. E., for $390,000 to Manatee Avenue Properties.
The 5,280-square-foot building and two parcels were designated as surplus by the board in April 2013.
The appraised value of the property is $890,000. The offers received since the property was first advertised in April 2013 were well below that price, said Jane Dreger, the district's director of capital projects. Most offers were between $247,500 and $350,000, according to the district.
"It seems to reflect market interest in that area," Dreger said.
If approved, the sale would close in about 90 days.
The Parent Information Center will continue to operate as usual until a sale closes, said district spokesman Steve Valley. If the sale goes through, the Parent Information Center services will be held in the evaluation center building behind Lincoln Middle School, Valley said.
The approval for sale is listed under new business on Tuesday's agenda.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.