The West Contra Costa Unified School District is paying local law enforcement agencies to station police, known as school resource officers, on high school and middle school campuses with funds the state has earmarked to improve academic outcomes of “high-needs” students, drawing praise from some and criticism from others in the school community and beyond.

Even as the plan was being considered, a 14-year-old student was shot in the leg near Kennedy High School in Richmond on May 14. The assailant didn’t enter the school, and the student is expected to recover. But officials from the district that includes Richmond and five other communities in the East Bay said the drive-by shooting and subsequent campus lockdown underscored the need for more school security.

School resource officers are police officers trained in dealing with issues specific to school campuses. At West Contra Costa, officers’ duties range from making arrests to providing counseling and mentoring to students.

This school year, California districts began receiving additional funds in the form of “supplemental” and “concentration” grants through the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last summer to improve the academic performance of high-needs students – low-income students, English learners and foster youth. West Contra Costa received about $12 million in these additional funds for the 2013-14 school year.  Out of those targeted funds, the district paid four local police departments and the county sheriff’s department $1.3 million. That amount is about half the annual cost of bringing 18 officers onto 13 campuses. The rest is paid with money from the district’s general fund.

California’s new Local Control Funding Formula mandates every district develop a Local Control and Accountability Plan to outline spending and show how extra money from the state will improve services for high-needs students.

Because the state does not gather data on what is contained in the plans, it is not known how many of the state’s nearly 1,000 districts are using funds for similar purposes. Researchers at Education Trust-West, a nonprofit Oakland-based advocacy organization, have reviewed 40 draft accountability plans. They found that five other districts have proposed using supplemental and concentration grants to pay for school resource officers and probation officers – although the degree to which they do so varies enormously. They include Tulare City, Modesto City, Fresno Unified, Clovis Unified and Los Angeles Unified. Modesto, for example, proposes to add one probation officer at its continuation school, while LA Unified’s draft accountability plan calls for spending $13 million on its police force.

LA Unified is among a small number of school districts that have their own police departments. But an EdSource survey of California school districts found that two-thirds of California school districts utilize officers from local police departments typically as school resource officers. Seventy percent indicated that police officers are present on all or most of their high school campuses.

Marcus Walton, the public information officer for West Contra Costa schools, said police officers do more than provide campus security. “While school resource officers can offer a level of physical safety, the district sees them and other service providers as being able to build the relationships necessary to support our students both in and out of school,” he said.

The district plans to continue using the special funds to pay for police through the 2016-17 school year, according to the its draft Local Control Accountability Plan, which outlines how the district proposes spending extra money provided by the state’s new school funding formula over the next three years.

Superintendent Bruce Harter cited the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow to support using the funds to pay for school police. Maslow postulated a “hierarchy of needs,” a pyramid of requirements for humans to attain their full potential. Near the base of Maslow’s pyramid – the foundation on which confidence, creativity, morality and problem solving depend – is physical safety.

“If you are in a safe place, you are going to be on a better emotional level and more able to learn,” Harter said.

Some parent advocates questioned whether the district’s expenditure is a proper use of money intended to help high-needs students.

“Why do we want to pay for more police at our schools with money that is supposed to achieve academic equity,” said Tamisha Walker, a parent with children attending Richmond High School, and a founder of the Safe Return Project, a nonprofit that helps former inmates adjust to life outside prison.

In response to concerns about school safety, school resource officers are thought to bethe fastest growing segment of law enforcement. But a new state law now encourages districts to consider alternatives to placing police officers on campus because they may contribute to more students being suspended or expelled, or more likely to be cited or arrested, and ending up in the juvenile justice system.

The proposals to use funds targeted for high-needs students to pay for police also drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

“Supplemental and concentration funds should not be used to pay for increased police on campus,” said David Sapp, director of education advocacy for the ACLU of Southern California. “What we know to be the case as an empirical fact is that increased police on campus leads to an increase in citations and arrests of students and those citations and arrests disproportionately affect high-needs student groups.”

The ACLU of Southern California recently co-signed a letter from the Los Angeles Chapter of the Dignity in Schools Campaign to LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy. The letter asks that $13 million of supplemental and concentration grants the district is proposing to spend on its police department be put to use elsewhere in the district’s $4.5 billion budget.

New regulations in the state Education Code require school districts to show their proposed spending plans will increase or improve services for the high-needs students intended to be the beneficiaries of the additional grant funds.

When asked how the $1.3 million going to police would increase or improve services for these students, West Contra Costa’s Walton said safety and security is a districtwide concern.

“Considering the high percentage of [low-income, foster youth and English learners] at our schools, the funds will definitely be of benefit to them, as well as to students who do not fall into those categories,” Walton said in an email.

However, John Affeldt, a lawyer with Public Advocates, a public interest law firm that has been a major supporter of the state’s new funding law, said the school district still needs to show how the funds the district intends to spend on police will specifically expand services for low-income pupils, English learners and foster youth beyond what had been provided in the past. “Districtwide services still need to be increasing or improving,” he said. It (the new law) is not a blank check to do whatever you want districtwide.”

Former teacher – and current parent – Giorgio Cosentino said teachers also need to feel safe in order to teach. Cosentino, who now has a daughter in West Contra Costa schools, taught biology at Richmond High School from 1998 to 2001.

He said there is a need to be vigilant against any threats to the safety of teachers or their students. Cosentino recalled a fatal shooting in front of Richmond High School when he was a teacher there more than a dozen years ago. In what was by far the worst day of his teaching career, he recalls how the wounded boy made his way to the principal’s office. Paramedics were summoned, but it was too late. He remembers “listening to the principal telling us over the PA to say a prayer for this kid, and then later telling us he didn’t make it.”

Madeline Kronenberg, a member of West Contra Costa Unified’s five-person Board of Education who supports the decision to pay for police with supplemental and concentration grants, said providing police is part of delivering a quality education in communities with high crime rates. “The circumstances of poverty create the need for more security,” she said.

Kronenberg said district officials could have been more transparent about their decision to use funds in this way when they first released the draft LCAP in April. In the 17-page document the police officers were labeled as “Student Safety and Psych Support.” Kronenberg said the language was imprecise mainly because of jargon that creeps into education documents like these. The district, she said, wasn’t trying to obfuscate, and subsequent drafts have clarified what the money will pay for.

Stephanie Papas, a school health education consultant for the California Department of Education, said campus police officers are supposed to be a resource for students and staff. “On a school campus, police play less of a suppression role and are more of another trusted adult,” Papas said.

That characterization jibes with Alonna Gallon’s impression of the El Cerrito police who work at El Cerrito High School, where she is a freshman. She described an incident in which campus police heard a rumor she was going to be involved in a fight and intervened to prevent it. “The police make me feel safer. They knew about me fighting before I even knew I was fighting,” Gallon said.

Other students don’t accept the premise that cops on campus contribute to students feeling safe, and therefore in a better position to learn. Dennis Pimentel, 17, a junior at Richmond High School and a student member of the parent committee advising West Contra Costa schools on its draft LCAP, said his windowless high school already looks like a prison. He said more cops might only add to that oppressive atmosphere.

“If we have more than one police officer, it doesn’t make me feel safer,” Pimentel said. “It means there’s more tension.”

The district’s elected Board of Education will hold a public hearing on May 28 to get further input before adopting the plan formally in June.

Alex Gronke is manager for EdSource’s Following the School Funding Formula project, which tracks the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula in selected school districts around the state.


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  1. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    What if under the old system the State decided to start a new multi-billion dollar categorical program to place law enforcement officers in schools paid for by the education budget? There would be an outcry on the misuse of education dollars. But LCFF was intended to give districts discretion over how to spend, though at least in theory that spending has to demonstrate an increase in achievement over time. (Whether there will ever be … Read More

    What if under the old system the State decided to start a new multi-billion dollar categorical program to place law enforcement officers in schools paid for by the education budget? There would be an outcry on the misuse of education dollars. But LCFF was intended to give districts discretion over how to spend, though at least in theory that spending has to demonstrate an increase in achievement over time. (Whether there will ever be any accountability for increased achievement remains to be seen at this early stage.) It would be hypocritical for the State to dictate to districts how to spend when the law didn’t include any parameters for what constitutes proper spending other than those vague requirements.

    We are going to see any number of unusual uses of funding with more local level decision-making. At the same time, curriculum and assessment is being nationalized. With greater standardization we will see even greater discrepancies in performance from one LEA to the next as they provide very different experiences for students under the single CCSS/Smarter Balanced umbrella. One district may invest in cost-effective technology and/or tutors while another pays for pricey law enforcement support.

    This article illustrates the core nature of LCFF. At the local level it is very difficult for local policy critics to make an impact. A statewide level change would have had to withstand more scrutiny before becoming law.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby 2 years ago2 years ago

      Don, what about the children in poverty? I find any essay which leaves them out deeply offensive. I feel we need to provide tutors for children who are poor and have ineffective parents and often have ineffective teachers protected by the union. Why do we care more about not offending ineffective parents and not firing ineffective teachers than we do about ensuring we use tutoring to close the achievement gap in this … Read More

      Don, what about the children in poverty? I find any essay which leaves them out deeply offensive. I feel we need to provide tutors for children who are poor and have ineffective parents and often have ineffective teachers protected by the union. Why do we care more about not offending ineffective parents and not firing ineffective teachers than we do about ensuring we use tutoring to close the achievement gap in this State? Could it be that the woody hills are no longer so woody anymore? We get so many smart people wanting to move to the land of milk and honey that we don’t care if we don’t produce any more smart people of our own. Don, in a previous post you talked of woody hills. I feel this is an appropriate way to look at it. We chop down all the trees and grow no more, figuring we can import them from Canada or perhaps Oregon and Washington, or Russia. This is also the way we feel about people. To people who are raising children here, it is deeply offensive. Are public school students a resource to be treasured or a threat to be policed? Should we develop them to be a part of the future, or are they a mere inconvenience to those in power, who would rather sip a latte, drink some wine and argue about the latest Sundance Film while our infrastructure rots from the inside out? I am deeply offended by this blase attitude! This should be our biggest and most pressing concern.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        Floyd, I think you are responding to a different comment.

        • Floyd Thursby 2 years ago2 years ago

          You're right. I'm just upset that there seems to be so much focus on spending money in ways that won't impact achievement, better achievement for all and the achievement gap. Blind unconditional huge raises (21% in 3 years), police, food, etc. It's upsetting. It means most of these poor kids will stay, well, poor, for a long time. We're not doing anything to change destinies. It's sad. I … Read More

          You’re right. I’m just upset that there seems to be so much focus on spending money in ways that won’t impact achievement, better achievement for all and the achievement gap. Blind unconditional huge raises (21% in 3 years), police, food, etc. It’s upsetting. It means most of these poor kids will stay, well, poor, for a long time. We’re not doing anything to change destinies. It’s sad. I remembered your old comments about woody hills and I think maybe, just maybe, the hills in California are no longer so woody.

  2. Paul Muench 2 years ago2 years ago

    People get new freedoms and they want to experiment. I too suspect they will eventually decide another use of the money is more fruitful. But I’m open to being wrong. The hard part is what any changes will do to the people depending on the new jobs. Lets hope they structure the employment so that they can afford to change course if needed.

  3. el 2 years ago2 years ago

    Seems to me it's the responsibility of the surrounding municipality/county to provide adequate law enforcement so that schools are in safe neighborhoods. Seems to me that if those officers aren't providing sufficient value add results that they should cut budgets or something until they do... oh, sorry. That's just for teachers. While I understand why some districts feel the need to do this, it's not supposed to be their job nor is it supposed to … Read More

    Seems to me it’s the responsibility of the surrounding municipality/county to provide adequate law enforcement so that schools are in safe neighborhoods. Seems to me that if those officers aren’t providing sufficient value add results that they should cut budgets or something until they do… oh, sorry. That’s just for teachers.

    While I understand why some districts feel the need to do this, it’s not supposed to be their job nor is it supposed to come from their budget. I would urge these districts to push back to their local governments and ask them to step up.

    When people make international comparisons of education spending and then sanctimoniously say we spend too much… this is why. We account all kinds of social services and law enforcement to schools that they don’t.

  4. Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

    Why are you all surprised that the Supplemental and Concentration grants are viewed by districts as a new piggy bank? Unless it is specifically forbidden, these funds will be treated as Title I have been treated: to supplant not supplement. Until teeth are put into the regulations, districts will continue to abuse the process. FYI, LAUSD intends to spend more than half of the S&C grant it claims to be getting on the unfunded Special Ed … Read More

    Why are you all surprised that the Supplemental and Concentration grants are viewed by districts as a new piggy bank? Unless it is specifically forbidden, these funds will be treated as Title I have been treated: to supplant not supplement.

    Until teeth are put into the regulations, districts will continue to abuse the process.

    FYI, LAUSD intends to spend more than half of the S&C grant it claims to be getting on the unfunded Special Ed budget. And the rest mostly on other “encroaching” programs. So much for supplementing resources to improve outcomes. Just supplant, baby!

  5. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 2 years ago2 years ago

    What is it about "improve academic outcomes for 'high-need' students" that's so hard to understand? That should mean spending on well-organized tutoring programs and special help from qualified staff for low-performing and economically poor children. As in English language instruction, reading, writing, math, and computer literacy so kids can actually take the computerized Common Core test! That is where this "Local Control Funding Formula" state money should be going, not to some more-is-better … Read More

    What is it about “improve academic outcomes for ‘high-need’ students” that’s so hard to understand? That should mean spending on well-organized tutoring programs and special help from qualified staff for low-performing and economically poor children. As in English language instruction, reading, writing, math, and computer literacy so kids can actually take the computerized Common Core test! That is where this “Local Control Funding Formula” state money should be going, not to some more-is-better paramilitary black hole.

    There is a ton of Homeland Security money begging for law enforcement applications. That is where school districts ought to be getting additional funds to beef up their school security and/or police. That’s where San Diego Unified School Police got its money not long ago for rifles and high-tech central office security systems — purposes I have reservations about, but at least the funding source and the purpose of the expenditure are congruent.

    Replies

    • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

      I won't disagree with your first paragraph, but I think its important to realize that some people will. Education leaders have used the persistence of 'gaps' to argue that our current approach is flawed. Our current approach is if course exactly geared toward intervention and tutoring. The flexing of categoricals was the first opportunity for a move away from what we've been doing. LCFF is flexing on steroids. I expect to see more of such … Read More

      I won’t disagree with your first paragraph, but I think its important to realize that some people will. Education leaders have used the persistence of ‘gaps’ to argue that our current approach is flawed. Our current approach is if course exactly geared toward intervention and tutoring. The flexing of categoricals was the first opportunity for a move away from what we’ve been doing. LCFF is flexing on steroids. I expect to see more of such arguments. And I expect it will take a better argument than simply ‘it’s obviously the best way’ to counter them.

  6. CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

    It appears that in San Francisco, the Police Department pays for school resource officers. And shouldn't that be the case, not funds intended for education? The School Resource Officers (SRO's) have worked within the city for 10 years. SRO's were initially funded bt a U.S. Department of Justice Cops-in Schools grant which ended April 2009. Absent federal monies, SFPD continues its commitment to the youth of San Francisco by currently assigning 19 officers as SRO's. … Read More

    It appears that in San Francisco, the Police Department pays for school resource officers. And shouldn’t that be the case, not funds intended for education?

    The School Resource Officers (SRO’s) have worked within the city for 10 years. SRO’s were initially funded bt a U.S. Department of Justice Cops-in Schools grant which ended April 2009. Absent federal monies, SFPD continues its commitment to the youth of San Francisco by currently assigning 19 officers as SRO’s.

    From the SFPD website:

    http://sf-police.org/index.aspx?page=72

    Replies

    • FloydThursby 2 years ago2 years ago

      You're 100% right. This is why we have a huge achievement gap. Police should come from the police budget, and considering we have the same # of police earning over double what teachers earn (vs. 1.36 times in San Diego) with under half the crime rate as 20 years ago, we should cut the police budget and put it into schools. The welfare budget should pay for free and reduced lunch. This is … Read More

      You’re 100% right. This is why we have a huge achievement gap. Police should come from the police budget, and considering we have the same # of police earning over double what teachers earn (vs. 1.36 times in San Diego) with under half the crime rate as 20 years ago, we should cut the police budget and put it into schools. The welfare budget should pay for free and reduced lunch.

      This is a conspiracy from the very top. Things which would really reduce the achievement gap are consistently ignored and bypassed. Every proposal out there with the extra money completely ignores the achievement gap. Across the board salary increases, infrastructure, painting, more expensive lunches and breakfasts, etc.

      We should put the new money into one-on-one tutors for at risk youth. Flash cards and books for parents, mandatory parenting classes for parents of kids who fail to test proficient or advanced after 2d grade, to turn off the TV and read to their kids, Saturday homework clubs, after school homework clubs, improving teacher quality. You could double the money spent and if you do it wrong, just end up with the same poor test results you’ve always have. Oh wait, they did that in DC, they spend over triple what we get in SFUSD and their test scores are terrible. Hello anyone, what’s wrong with this picture?

  7. Karen Swett 2 years ago2 years ago

    The "A" in LCAP is for "accountability". How is Concentration and Supplemental being expended? The SBE, CDE and state leg need to get onboard with Accountability. The only way for us - the public - to see how the money is being spent is by being able to identify it. How can we - the public - hold a school/district/county/state accountable if we can't track these funds -- and their use? PLEASE … Read More

    The “A” in LCAP is for “accountability”. How is Concentration and Supplemental being expended? The SBE, CDE and state leg need to get onboard with Accountability. The only way for us – the public – to see how the money is being spent is by being able to identify it. How can we – the public – hold a school/district/county/state accountable if we can’t track these funds — and their use? PLEASE provide SACS Codes for Supplemental and Concentration funds. I want to see how my money is being used. Then – and only then – will I be able to connect spending to student outcomes.

    There are 2 important – separate and entwined – issues in this article: SROs and Accountability.

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