School resource officer program facing funding cuts

WCCUSD eliminating school resource officers in wake of George Floyd killing
Photo: Mike Kinney

The program that staffs police officers at local schools and school events will face significant funding restraints in the near future, Richmond police Chief Allwyn Brown states in a report set to be discussed at City Council Tuesday.

The assessment comes after the superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified (WCCUSD) announced in November that the district can no longer afford to pay the full cost for the program due to budget constraints, according to Chief Brown’s report to council. The district wants cities to share in the program’s cost in the coming years.

WCCUSD has been working to cut costs due to several factors, including a decision to increase staff pay in order to reduce turnover, rising pension costs, and reduced revenue caused by decreased enrollment.

In a report to city council, Chief Brown said RPD’s fiscal 2018-19 budget can cover the current SRO contract amount of just under $1.2 million, which pays for eight officers, including six staffed at Richmond schools. But it doesn’t cover expenses associated with a new clause in the agreement with WCCUSD that requires dedicated police presence at extracurricular school activities. The police budget is short by an estimated $232,000 in that regard, Brown said.

“This is an alert that future funding to support SRO programs through the WCCUSD will most certainly decrease substantially in the coming budget year,” Chief Brown said in his report. “A significant increase in financial subsidy would be necessary to continue the Richmond SRO program as is.”

In Richmond in 2017-18, the School Resource Officer program provided security for 62 football games, 61 basketball games, 12 WCCUSD board meetings, nine graduations, five school dances, four school open houses and the Snowball Dance.

Chief Brown says the School Resource Officer program has been “transformative in establishing good order, positive police/youth relationships and climates of respect and decency on school grounds.”

The WCCUSD Board of Education debated funding levels for SROs, as well as the program’s effectiveness, during an impassioned meeting last year. Despite district proposals to reduce district spending on the program the board voted to maintain funding and staffing levels.

Some community members have questioned the effectiveness of having police officers at schools. A Board decision in 2017 eliminated “willful defiance” as a reason to suspend and expel a student. That decision led to the passage of a Positive School Climate resolution directing more resources to holistic approaches to handling troubled teens. The district had proposed redirecting savings from SRO funding to pay for such programs involving “restorative justice coordinators” and training for teachers and other staff.