LA School Board Cuts $25 Million From School Police After Protests

Hundreds of protesters gather at a rally in Los Angeles calling on education officials to slash the school district’s police budget by 90% over the next three years. (Courthouse News photo / Martin Macias Jr. )

LOS ANGELES (CN) — After facing pressure from students protesting police presence in schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted Tuesday night to slash the district’s police department’s budget by $25 million and shift the funds to programs supporting students of color.

The move by the Board of Education — which oversees a district serving nearly 700,000 students — reduces the LA School Police Department’s operating budget by 35% and requires officers to wear civilian uniforms while on duty.

The seven-member board faced weeks of protests by black students in LAUSD, their parents and Black Lives Matter-LA members who demanded LASPD reforms as mass protests against police violence swept the nation.

Board members that voted in favor of shifting LASPD funds to education programs include Mónica García, Nick Melvoin, Jackie Goldberg and Kelly Gonez. Board members Richard Vladovic, Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna opposed the motion.

Garcia said on Twitter Wednesday the board’s action is only the start of shifting more LAUSD policing funds to education programs.

“Dismantling structural racism and classism is our collective responsibility in order to help all kids read, write and get to 100% graduation. We own the outcome of repeating or rejecting our past practices,” Garcia tweeted. “We are clear that California must move away from corrections and invest in schools not prisons.”

Before recent protests, community groups such as the Youth Justice Coalition documented for years the role school police and administrators play in a “school to prison pipeline” that pushes students into the criminal justice system instead of through well-funded education and social service programs.

The 4-3 board vote Tuesday means at least 65 LASPD officers will be immediately laid off and that school police will only patrol off campus until a task force by LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner reports back next month on further reform recommendations.

LASPD Chief Todd Chamberlain said in the hearing Tuesday the budget reduction means 39 vacant positions won’t be filled, a department overtime budget will be erased and that remaining officers will no longer respond to after-school hours emergency calls. 

The nearly 470-member school police department — the largest in the nation — operated on a $70 million budget that made up about 1% of the school district’s more than $8 billion budget, according to district data.

Tuesday’s decision applies to the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.

Dranae Jones, a teacher at King Drew Medical Magnet in LA, said in an email the board’s action Tuesday is a victory but that more is needed to ensure students receive equitable support.

“As an educator who has worked on campuses without police, I am encouraged to see LAUSD take a giant step towards abolishing LASPD,” said Jones. “Right now our students need counselors, they need care, they need coping mechanisms to deal with their tragedies, and they need to feel safe at school.”

Jones is an LAUSD graduate and member of Students Deserve, an LAUSD student-led organization that spearheaded protests in recent weeks.

Kahlila Williams, an LAUSD high school senior who organizes with Students Deserve, said in the statement she’s happy policing funds will be redirected to support black students. 

“This is a change that we as black youth need,” Williams said. “The tragedies that students have dealt with for years doesn’t compare to the $25 million the police budget is losing. We as black youth deserve that $25 million and so much more.” 

In a meeting last week, the board rejected multiple police-reform proposals, including a study into whether the second largest school district in the country still needs police and a plan that would have cut the district’s police budget by 90% over three years.

Members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), a labor union representing LAUSD educators, have participated in recent protests and spoke at the board’s meeting last week in support of students’ demands.

In a vote last Thursday, the UTLA House of Representatives voted 154-56 to call for the elimination of the LASPD and to redirect policing funds to health programs for students. 

The same motion was approved by the UTLA board June 2.

UTLA president-elect Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement on Thursdays vote that community members’ years-long critiques of school police are finally being addressed.

“The concept of police-free schools is not new,” Myart-Cruz said. “Police presence in schools leads to negative outcomes for Black and Brown students, who are arrested and disciplined at higher rates than their peers. This is the height of criminalization of our youth and it leads them directly into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

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