After community residents advocated to defund police in schools, the Kern High School District approved a draft school budget for the 2020-21 school year, which allocates funding to the district’s police department.
However, a revised budget will go back to the Board of Trustees in August for another vote. The revised budget is in response to the state’s economic deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many members of the community submitted public comment both for defunding the district’s police department and for keeping it.
“Please make the choice to invest in students (and) defund police on campus and fund nurses and counselors,” community members Christine McDonald wrote in her public comment. “(We should take) preventative approaches to disciplinary problems instead of relying on police presence for students to feel safe and supported.”
The Kern High School District has its own police department, which employs 28 officers, one lieutenant, and once chief of police. For the 2018-19 school year, the district’s budget for its police department was around $4 million.
“I am 100 percent against defunding campus police, knowing the safety my daughter feels knowing there are police on campus,” said KHSD parent Kara Reynolds.
Many KHSD parents in favor of funding the police department threatened to remove their kids from the district if the board decided to defund the department.
“I will stand firm that if the Kern High School District removes police, my children will not attend your schools,” said one parent.
The majority of the board members expressed their support for the district’s police department.
“The fear our kids could be in harms way at school resonates with me,” said Trustee Joey O’Connell. “If we allow that to happen because we defund police, it would give me horror.”
However, Trustee Bryan Batey said this could be a topic of conversation at a later date after the board decides on a plan for reopening in the fall, and funds can be used to offer more training to officers.
“I would be more interested in revisiting this in October if it needs to be,” Batey said. “Do we need more training?”
“I think we have bigger things to tackle,” Trustee Cynthia Brakeman said.
The Kern Education Justice Collaborative started a petition last week in an effort to defund the district’s police department and instead reallocate those funds to other services, such as hiring additional counselors, school-based social workers, psychologists, mental health clinicians and nurses; hiring diverse educators that reflect the student population; implementing Ethnic Studies; hiring restorative justice practitioners; and removing police from all restorative justice models and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.
As of Monday evening, the petition had more than 1,600 signatures.
“As a Counselor and educator, I know first-hand the importance of having counselors available to help out students succeed,” wrote Kern County resident Odessa Washington on the petition. “The current ratio of 1 counselor to 300+ students is not acceptable.”
KHSD currently employs 310 individuals dedicated to addressing the mental, emotional, and academic well being of students. These positions include school counselors, social workers, school psychologists, interventionists, mental health clinicians and more. The district’s budget for these support professionals is around $35 million, which is about 7.7 percent of the district’s overall 2018-19 budget.