Controversial proposals to reduce district spending for the program that places police school resource officers (SRO) at West Contra Costa Unified schools — and to possibly redirect those funds toward training teachers and staff on how to handle matters involving misbehaving students — is set to be discussed at the district’s Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.
The debate has school board member Mister Phillips, an opponent of the district’s recommendations, calling on the public to attend the meeting to voice opinions on the matter.
“[The district’s] recommendation to the Board of Education is to cut funding for the program by 50-percent,” Phillips commented in a WCCUSD Facebook group. “If you have an opinion about this, you should attend the school board meeting on April 25, 2018, and speak during public comment.”
The district is expected to present a number of options to reduce the cost of its SRO contract. Currently, WCCUSD pays $2.4 million for 13 SROs, including six officers in Richmond, two each in Pinole, Hercules and El Cerrito, and one in San Pablo.
Three of the proposed options would reduce district funds for SROs by 50-percent with the expectation of entering into a cost-sharing model with cities. A fourth proposal reduces SRO staffing levels while also sharing their cost with cities 50-50.
Other school districts statewide using SROs don’t have to pay 100-percent of the cost for the program, WCCUSD’s report stated. By implementing district recommendations, the district could amass “up to $1.75 million in savings in 2020-21.”
“Additional resources to be supported by these savings include training for school and district leaders, new teachers, and school staff; capacity building efforts, including train-the-trainer workshops; and providing climate and restorative justice coordinators,” according to the district.
The debate over the effectiveness of assigning police officers at schools has been happening for about a year, with supporters of the SRO program saying on-campus officers keep school safe, act as mentors to students more than disciplinarians and help build community bonds between police and local youth. WCCUSD once had its own police department that disbanded in 2006.
However, some students, administrators and youth advocacy groups say on-campus police disrupt rather than assist in promoting safety and academic achievement.
The review of the SRO program stems from a decision by the Board of Education last year to eliminate “willful defiance” as a reason to suspend and expel a student, as such punishments disproportionately impact African American students, according to the district. That vote led to the passage of a Positive School Climate resolution that directed more resources toward holistic approaches to deal with misbehaving students, some of whom suffer from trauma brought to school from their home lives.
In the 2016-17 school year, according to district data, there were 74 school-based arrests at Richmond schools and 808 calls for police services, according to district data. In El Cerrito, there were 25 school-based arrests and 531 calls for service, the data showed.