Modesto schools won't create security squad

naustin@modbee.comJuly 29, 2013 

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    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin

— Discussions of the high suspension rate of black male students and school security occupied the Modesto City Schools board meeting Monday night. Both agenda items were reports only — no votes were taken.

But the idea of a school district police department will not move forward. Chief Business Official Julie Chapin said, "It's very clear that (because of) the liability factor … that is not an option the district will be pursuing."

The district now contracts with the Modesto Police Department for four armed officers during school hours, spread mainly among its seven high schools and Elliott Alternative Education Center, as well as its four junior highs.

The liability issue arose because the board was not discussing extending that MPD contract for after-school hours, but creating a dual campus supervisor-security officer position for schools and possibly adding security guards or patrols after school hours to cut graffiti and vandalism.

Board member Stacie Morales said she liked the idea of after-hours patrols done in partnership with elementary districts. Empire Union School District added an after-school patrol to watch a campus-adjacent park, she said, reducing problems there.

Concerns over high suspension rates of black male students were raised at the meeting by community advocate Jacq Wilson. Wilson cited a Civil Rights Project study showing that nationwide, suspensions of black males run about 24 percent of enrollment. Modesto City's numbers are six times that rate (141 percent), he said. "The numbers here are just staggering," he said.

"By law, suspension should be the tool of last resort," he said, calling the district numbers "an education equity nightmare."

Wilson said he wanted to help put in place an intensive mentoring program and was encouraged to submit a proposal to mentor 80 struggling seventh- and eighth-graders of all races.

The draft proposal he developed envisions paying a program coordinator and support specialist for up to 80 volunteer mentors, plus event expenses, for a total cost of $90,038.

District-provided numbers for 2012-13 show that blacks — boys and girls — made up 3 percent of all students but accounted for 8 percent of all out-of-school suspensions.

Modesto City has worked to lower out-of-school suspensions overall after being cited last year for high numbers of special-education students being sent home. In 2012-13, the district issued 4,703 suspensions, down from nearly 6,000 in 2011-12 and more than 8,000 in 2009-10.

Ed Miller, director of the district office handling discipline, credited interventions and more positive discipline strategies for the change. "We don't want kids suspended, but we're still holding the line on the violent things," he said.

During the meeting, the board unanimously approved two contracts for mental health help on campuses, one raising the total Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services contract with the district to $380,000, and another with the Center for Human Services for $749,088.

It unanimously approved a deal to bring drug, alcohol and gunpowder-sniffing canines back to high school campuses. The $16,200 contract will pay for 54 full-day dog patrols.

In other action, the board voted unanimously to hire a third administrator to oversee its 22 elementary sites. Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson said the district raised the bar for its principals and needed to support their work. The estimated cost for salary, benefits and office expenses was $163,500.

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