pvusd trustees

WATSONVILLE—Pajaro Valley Unified School District will continue its school resource officer (SRO) program—which pairs a uniformed police officer with a mental health clinician at two comprehensive high schools—while asking Watsonville Police Department and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office to share the cost.

The Board of Trustees agreed that the program—which has been running at Aptos and Watsonville high schools since May—should continue during its March 22 meeting.

The issue of placing a police officer on high school campuses was thrust into the spotlight in 2020, when the trustees eliminated the program, shifting the money instead to socio-emotional counselors. Their decision was swayed by members of the public, students and teachers who said that police presence on campus weighs heavier on non-white students and contributes to the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

The Board reversed that decision one year later after a student was stabbed to death on the Aptos High campus. This time, the board elected to pair the officers with a mental health clinician. 

But because the officers that previously held the positions had been assigned elsewhere, it took time to restore them. PVUSD will bring the program to Pajaro Valley High School when WPD hires an officer.

District Student Services Director Ivan Alcaraz told the trustees that the program has been largely successful since it was implemented, with 76 referrals at Aptos High between Aug. 15 2022 and March 12. A referral is a request by a school administrator or someone associated with the school to address concerns such as bullying, truancy and peer conflicts.

They also respond to reports of crimes such as drug sales, possession or use and assault. The team at Watsonville High had 145 referrals, Alcaraz said.

Most of these referrals were for LatinX students—just over 63% at AHS and 93% at WHS, both of which match the demographics at the schools, Alcaraz said.

Currently, the two mental health clinicians cost $343,833 annually, and two officers cost $342,474. When Pajaro Valley High gets its team, those numbers will rise to $507,487 and $526,474, respectively.

A handful of people addressed the board, most expressing their misgivings of using district resources to fund the program. 

“I would request that we not squander scarce education dollars on what could be a free service,” said Renaissance High teacher Chris Webb.

Watsonville Charter School of the Arts music teacher Bobby Marchessault questioned a survey in Alcaraz’s report that showed no negative opinions by students of the SRO program. 

He also questioned whether the district reached out to nonprofit groups such as Barrios Unidos for their input on having uniformed officers on campus.

“It really feels to me like there is zero interest from this district in hearing anything aside from what they want to hear to maintain the status quo,” he said. 

Watsonville Police Assistant Chief Thomas Sims says that, while the department supports the SRO program, and is up for having the discussion, the District’s cost sharing idea will not be a simple matter.

He explained that the department faces budget constraints and the same staffing shortages that police departments across the U.S. are facing.

“In a perfect world, if we were fully staffed and we had the two officers that the school district was paying for, then we would have that program up and running,” he said. “We just don’t have that staffing level to be able to support that.”

The item passed 6-0, with Trustee Oscar Soto absent.

Trustee Olivia Flores said that she made campus safety a key platform during her campaign for the 2022 election.

“We definitely have to make sure our students are protected,” she said. “I feel like the program we’ve created is unique, and it’s working.”

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/


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