LAUSD Questionable Budgetary Choices…School Discipline…Mental Health in Schools…and Considering Chief Beck for 2nd TermJune 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
JUDGE NASH SAYS LAUSD MONEY FOR DISADVANTAGED KIDS SHOULD NOT BE SHIFTED TO SCHOOL COPS
Head LA Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash has sent a letter to the LAUSD opposing a plan to use $13 million in funding earmarked for disadvantaged kids to beef up the school police force.
Nash’s letter says that increasing police presence on campus does not fall under the umbrella of providing better learning experiences and outcomes to kids in low-income families, foster kids, and English as a Second Language (ESL) students, which is what the money is set aside for.
The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris has the story. Here are some clips:
An unprecedented new California funding plan is poised to distribute billions across the Golden State, which has long been beleaguered by inequities in educational support in low-income communities and waves of budget cuts in more recent years. Earmarked funds are supposed to be slated specifically for low-income and foster-care kids, as well as students classified as still learning English as a second language.
In a June 6 letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash said this particular pot of money should not be diverted to support the L.A. district’s own school police force, which has an annual budget of around $57 million.
Nash expressed “great respect” for recent efforts to reduce school suspensions and referrals to police, but said he did “not see a reasonable nexus between law enforcement and specifically improving the educational experience and outcomes for our most vulnerable student populations.”
“On the contrary,” the judge said, “there has been a wealth of research that indicates that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment.
“This explains why, as part of a nationwide discipline reform process that has gained significant traction of late, there is a specific focus on reducing police involvement in routine school discipline matters,” Nash wrote.
In another letter to the district in April, a group of legal aid and community groups involved in school-discipline reform in California praised the L.A. district for proposing to direct $37 million of the new supplemental funds to 37 of the district’s most troubled middle and high schools.
But the groups also objected to the idea of diverting more than $13 million to L.A. school police, for the same reasons as Nash. The groups additionally protested that the district’s draft proposal initially allocates only $2.6 million for certain methods of managing student clashes and misbehavior known as “restorative justice” counseling.
Restorative justice methods are key to the L.A. district’s own adopted “School Climate Bill of Rights,” the groups noted. That bill of rights aims to reduce suspensions and referrals of students to police for fights or misbehavior. The relatively modest proposed spending to hire a relative handful of counselors to lead this effort is “extremely disturbing,” the letter says.
The groups asked for many millions more to be invested in such counseling, including all the $13 million slated for police. But no additional money for restorative justice appears in the latest version of the plan.
SANTA ROSA SCHOOLS SAVE MONEY AND KEEP KIDS IN SCHOOL WITH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
While the LAUSD is only earmarking $2.6M for restorative justice next year, there are plenty of examples across the state (and country) of schools using restorative justice to lower suspensions and expulsions, keeping kids in class and saving money.
The Santa Rosa City Schools District spent $125,000 implementing restorative justice practices at two schools during the 2013-14 year. With a small investment and a citywide push for more effective school discipline, Santa Rosa Schools cut total suspensions and expulsions nearly in half and saved $550,000 in ADA (average daily attendance) money.
The Press-Democrat’s Susan Kinder has the story. Here are some clips:
Santa Rosa schools were suspending and expelling students at a much higher rate than most schools in the state. In fact, in the 2011-12 year, Santa Rosa schools had the fourth highest rate of suspensions per capita in the state.
Eager to find a different approach to school discipline, the Santa Rosa school board did its research and wanted to implement restorative justice, a nationally recognized method of conflict resolution that often involves meeting in restorative circles — with victims, offenders, students, teachers, parents and administrators — in an effort to repair the harm, make amends and get to the very core of the problem.
In the 2013-14 school year, Restorative Resources served 219 students in suspension diversion program and 188 students in expulsion diversion programs.
At Elsie Allen High School, suspensions were down 60 percent, with 25 suspensions this year compared to 62 suspensions in 2012-13…
At Cook Middle School, suspensions were down 67 percent, with 27 suspensions in 2013-14 compared to 82 suspensions in 2012-13.
But the reduction in suspensions and expulsions was not limited to these two schools. It was part of a districtwide trend that added up to huge suspension and expulsion reductions this year and a total savings of more than $550,000 in ADA (average daily attendance) money.
The savings in suspension diversion in 2013-14 amounted to $340,976. This school year, 1,863 students were suspended for 3,558 days at a cost of $304,173 in lost ADA money. In the 2012-13 school year, 3,206 students were suspended for 7,546.5 days at cost of $645,150.
The savings from expulsion diversion in 2013-14 amounted to $213,840. This year, only three students were expelled at a cost of $40,920. In the 2012-13 school year, 53 students were expelled at cost of $254,760.
STUDY: CALIFORNIA A LEADER IN THE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE CONVERSATION
Although many California schools still lag behind in reforming harsh discipline policies, overall, California is high on the list of states swapping out zero tolerance policies and narrowing the racial gap, according to an important new report released Thursday by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
Susan Frey of EdSource has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
“Research and data on school discipline is clear,” according to a synopsis of the 400-page report, School Discipline Consensus Report: Key Findings, Recommendations and Examples of Action. “Millions of students are being removed from their classrooms each year, overwhelmingly for minor misconduct. Students experiencing suspensions and expulsions are disproportionately nonwhite, disabled and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
Suspending students, particularly for minor offenses, is a serious issue because it “substantially increases the likelihood they will fall behind academically, drop out and enter the juvenile justice system,” according to the report.
California’s recent efforts to reduce suspensions and encourage more positive approaches to discipline puts the state “at the top of the list together with a handful of other states” in promoting a healthy school climate, said Michael Thompson, director of the Justice Center.
“California has become a real leader in this conversation,” Thompson said. “Top policy makers and school officials have made a positive school climate a priority.”
At the unveiling of the report in Los Angeles on Thursday, one of the policy makers who has been leading efforts to reform school discipline policies, Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said the report is important because it represents a consensus-based approach “for all of those who have an investment in making sure young people stay in school.”
The report involved more than 100 advisers representing policy makers, school administrators, teachers, behavioral health professionals, police, court leaders, probation officials, juvenile correctional leaders, parents and youth across the country. Another 600 individuals shared examples of promising practices that are outlined in the report, which took three years to complete.
In conjunction with the release of the national report, The Center for Civil Rights Remedies on Thursday provided an analysis of state data that showed that 500 out of 745 California school districts reduced out-of-school suspensions between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Although African American students were still over-represented, the racial gap is narrowing, the center reported. The results included only the 745 districts that had discipline data for both years and excluded county offices of education, according to the center, which is part of the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles.
The center also reported an overall reduction in suspensions by 14 percent and a 24 percent reduction in suspensions for willful defiance, which has been criticized as being too subjective and for being used disproportionately with African American students. Dickinson has introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 420, this legislative session to limit the use of willful defiance suspensions. A similar bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Dickinson said he is working with the governor to get his support of the current bill.
…BACK TO THE LAUSD BUDGETARY ISSUES
While the LAUSD plans to increase the $57 million school police budget to $70 million, still another subset of students are being underserved. A recent study found that 8 in 10 kids attending LA’s high-poverty schools had experienced three or more traumatic events during the previous year, yet the mental health budget allows for just one counselor per 2,200 LAUSD students.
This means that nearly the only kids actually receiving school counseling are the those whose circumstances are so extreme the district is required to treat them under federal law.
The new California funding plan will allow LA to hire 97 new counselors (but almost all of them are going to a few schools to settle a lawsuit and increase services for foster kids).
The state will also be spending an extra $50 million on “wellness centers” to provide a number of mental and physical health services to students both on and off campus.
KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the issue in part two of her series on poverty in LA schools. Here’s a clip:
The district currently employs about 300 psychiatric social workers to serve roughly 800 schools — a ratio of about 2,200 students to one counselor.
As researchers work to solve one of the most persistent problems in public education – why kids in poor neighborhoods fail so much more often than their upper-income peers – more and more they’re pointing the finger at what happens outside the classroom.
Shootings. Food insecurity. Sirens and fights in the night. Experts are finding that those stressors build up, creating emotional problems and changes in the brain that can undermine even the clearest lessons.
In a recent study at high-poverty schools, L.A. Unified officials found that eight in 10 kids had suffered three or more traumatic events in the preceding year alone.
One solution cropping up at a smattering of schools across the country: school-based therapy.
“These children need to feel empowered to be able to feel like they are agents of their own change,” said Dr. Victor Carrion, a professor and psychiatrist at UC Berkeley who’s working on interventions for kids suffering from what’s become known as toxic stress.
“They are going to have themselves for the rest of their life,” he added, “so the best thing they can have is to be equipped to manage traumatic stressors later in life.”
But at the Los Angeles Unified School District, counseling services have been in decline for years.
The issue is money.
Between 2008 and 2013, L.A. Unified lost $2.8 billion in overall funding from the state. School board member Steve Zimmer said it was a battle just holding on to teachers.
“We had a cataclysmic experience in the district with the budget. Everything that was, is no more,” Zimmer said.
A lot of people lost jobs: teachers, librarians, custodians. And counselors.
During those recession-era cuts, prevention and early intervention funds for mental health services all but disappeared said Pia Escudero, director of school mental health at L.A. Unified.
Now, she said, her staff’s caseload consists almost entirely of students whose problems are so severe the district is required to treat them under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Students…aren’t likely to see a school counselor unless they get so sick a psychiatrist diagnoses them as emotionally disturbed.
“You are always summoned to put out fires versus really embedding programs,” Escudero said.
The financial tide is only now starting to turn at L.A. Unified.
California is sending more money to schools to help the neediest students. L.A. Unified will see its budget increase by $332 million next year for a total of about $6.8 billion. But that still leaves the district – and California – near the bottom of school funding in the nation.
Even with the influx of cash, very few students will see a counselor.
The district is adding 97 counselors, but they’re going to a select group of schools to settle a lawsuit, and to help foster kids stay on track.
Yet Escudero said the need across the district is overwhelming…
EFFECTS OF INCARCERATION ON KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS
Having an incarcerated parent is one significant source of trauma for kids in Los Angeles and across the nation, but is largely under-researched. A recent National Academy of Sciences study on the rise of the national incarceration rate takes a look at the effects incarceration has on kids (and families) with a locked up parent.
NPR’s All Things Considered has more on the report. Take a listen, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story.
Jeremy Travis, one of the authors of the National Academy of Sciences report, says despite the rate of incarceration quadrupling over the past four decades, no one has really studied its effects on the family — especially kids — before.
“This is an important social question which is not getting enough attention from the research community — not because there is not enough interest, but because we’ve not been willing to pay for it,” Travis says.
Travis says the numbers of kids with an incarcerated parent is “staggering.” He says in the 1970s there were about 350,000 minors with a parent in prison; now, it’s well over 2 million.
“That simply tracks [with] the fact that we’re putting more people in prison,” he says. “And the consequences of that are pretty profound, we think, although they’re not as well documented as they should be.”
What we do know, he says, is that there are higher rates of homelessness among families when the father is in prison, poor developmental outcomes for the children in those families, and that there’s greater family instability in those families.
Travis says the children in those families often end up in foster care and have difficulties in school forming attachments with their peers. All of those difficulties, he says, present challenges for the communities, social workers, educators and family members who want to support that child through such a difficult time.
The first step, he says, is that we should have fewer people in prison, but it is more complicated than that.
“We will always have people in prison, and we should pay attention to the collateral consequences of incarcerating … parents,” Travis says.
EDITORIALS: REAPPOINTING LAPD CHIEF BECK SEEMS OBVIOUS, BUT COMMISSION SHOULD STILL CONDUCT THOROUGH REVIEW
Starting this week, public hearings will be held throughout the month on whether or not LAPD Chief Charlie Beck should serve another five-year term. The Police Commission will then have until August 20 to decide to reappoint Beck or end his term.
Two LA Times editorials take a look at how Beck has served the department and the city and give suggestions on what the civilian commission should consider as it goes about making its decision.
The first editorial says that while Beck appears to be a “shoo-in,” the commission should not skim over the process, but should still examine the statistics, including crime rates over the last five years, complaints against the department, and arrests. Here’s a clip:
Beck is seeking reappointment at a time when the Los Angeles Police Department is free of major controversy and scandal. When he became chief, the LAPD was still under a consent decree the city had agreed to to avoid a lawsuit that would have dredged up the department’s sometimes sordid record of brutality and racism. Chief William J. Bratton embraced the requirements of that decree, and when Beck took over, he steered the department through the final reforms needed to end federal oversight. Crime has continued to decline under his leadership, with gang crime reduced by half. Community relations appear strong — the seething antipathy toward the department that was a fact of life just a decade or two ago no longer dominates the city’s concerns. To Beck’s credit, the LAPD has managed this despite budget constraints, including a cost-cutting policy that keeps some 400 officers home each day rather than pay them overtime.
Given all that, Beck would seem to be a shoo-in for reappointment. It would, however, be wrong for the commissioners to skip through this process. This is an opportunity for the commission to take stock of its chief and imagine the future of the department. It should start by looking at the numbers.
Crime. Last year marked the 11th in a row that crime decreased in the city. Crime has declined in good economic times and bad, and those who deny the role of police in this revolutionary trend are arguing against facts. Los Angeles added officers in those years, and tailored policing strategies to address crime. The result: The number of serious and violent crimes in 2008, the year before Beck took office, was 127,374. The number last year was 100,521. That means that 27,000 Angelenos were spared a misery last year. No one should be cavalier about how much that affects the life of a city.
Yes, it’s true that other forces influence crime, and yes, crime was declining before Beck’s tenure, but the number of violent crimes and major property crimes has continued to drop each year. There are some on the City Council and elsewhere who continue to question whether the police played a significant role in those numbers, and thus whether the city could allow the department to shrink. They’re wrong. Some cities — Chicago, for instance — have seen a resurgence in violence of late, while smart policing has made Los Angeles safer. Indeed, the LAPD’s achievements in this area are all the more noteworthy given the overtime cuts. Beck deserves credit for balancing the department’s budget without sacrificing safety…
The second editorial says that although there are no strong guidelines for the commission must follow in its decision-making process, it should take cues from the history of the process and the reasons recent chiefs—Williams, Parks, and Bratton—were either reappointed or replaced at the end of their first five years. Here’s a clip:
The current system for naming, retaining and replacing chiefs grows out of the breakdown of civilian oversight of the department in the early 1990s. In those days, Chief Daryl F. Gates and Mayor Tom Bradley feuded nastily, and their mutual dislike was stoked by the controversy that engulfed Los Angeles after the release of a videotape showing LAPD officers beating Rodney G. King in 1991. By the time of the riots in 1992, the two had not spoken for more than a year.
The Christopher Commission, named for Los Angeles attorney (and future U.S. secretary of State) Warren Christopher, concluded that the chief was too unaccountable to the city’s civilian Police Commission, which was supposed to set policy for the LAPD and to supervise its chief. Partly to blame, the Christopher Commission concluded, were civil service protections that in effect created a “chief for life.” Instead, the commission recommended that chiefs be limited to 10 years in office, with a midpoint review. Voters approved that change as a charter amendment over Gates’ furious objections — indeed, on the night that the riots broke out in 1992, Gates was attending a fundraiser to defeat the amendment.
At the same time that the Christopher Commission was trying to put limits on a chief’s tenure, it also wisely suggested that it should be the norm for chiefs to serve the full 10 years. Its final report described the structure as a single term broken into “two five-year increments.” And though the Police Commission was given broad authority to get rid of a chief who had lost its confidence, the midpoint review was intended as an opportunity for a course correction when something was going wrong, not as a routine opportunity to make a switch. That was meant to strike the balance between accountability and stability, both important for leading an organization as complex and powerful as the LAPD.
Since then, three chiefs have applied for renewal. Two, Willie L. Williams and Bernard C. Parks, were denied the additional five years; one, William J. Bratton, was given the extra time. Their experiences are instructive and should guide the commission.
By 1997, with Williams approaching the end of his first five years, there was a strong consensus among the city’s political leadership that he had failed. Though he had helped patch up the LAPD’s relations with parts of the city, notably among blacks, the department’s performance measures were mixed and its leadership was demoralized. Most significant, Williams lost the commission’s confidence when he lied about accepting free accommodations from a Las Vegas hotel.
Parks’ case was more difficult…