MODESTO -- Modesto City Schools will need to dig more than $800,000 out of its already stretched general fund this year to lower the number of students labeled as having emotional problems.
"This is a big hit," Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson told trustees in explaining the state sanction, which was announced earlier Monday. Under a new formula, the state found the district had far more white high school students than is acceptable who are labeled as emotionally disabled.
Nearly half of those students, however, are new to the district, many arriving with that diagnosis from outside counties. Prevention in those cases poses "a significant challenge," she said.
The district plans to target all at-risk high school students, using the funds to offer more services for students and training for staff, Johnson said. The hope is that fewer students will end up labeled as emotionally disabled, a designation with far-reaching consequences, she said. It could prevent them from joining the military, for example.
Mark Herbst, Modesto's director of special education, said the district hopes the early intervention will help lower its high numbers of students expelled or suspended, another state concern.
Modesto schools particularly have high numbers of black and, in high school, Latino students, who are disciplined. The state monitors only the cases of special education students, but Johnson said the issues are the same.
"Special education is a microcosm of what's going on in general education," Johnson said. School culture needs to move away from a punitive or zero-tolerance approach to misconduct, she said.
The conversation began last year, Johnson said before the meeting, in response to an article on the district's expulsion and suspension rates that appeared in The Bee.
"I think at the heart of it, we do have a problem. It is about equity," Johnson said. With recent state recognition of the problem, the district was able to qualify for $90,000 in grants to focus on improving those numbers.
Among the strategies being pursued by the district:
Training teachers in classroom management strategies
Laying out behavior expectations more explicitly
Offering more at-school options for consequences
Last year's numbers are already lower, especially for black and Latino students, district figures show.
The agenda item was a report, and the board took no action.
The board heard a report on midyear state funding cuts if voters reject new taxes in November. The latest figures are worse, the district's chief business official, Julie Chapin, said.
If Proposition 30 fails, she said, the district would lose about $12.7 million nearly immediately, Chapin said. The cut would drop district reserves from about 12.5 percent of the budget to roughly 7 percent, she said. The minimum required by the state is 3 percent.
Bee staff writer Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.