Friday, August 29, 2014

(Santa Barbara County) Jury Still Out on Jail Funding

Supes Poke Holes in Report that Questions Funding Scheme

August 28, 2014
Santa Barbara Independent
By Lyz Hoffman

Santa Barbara supervisors this week poked holes in a Grand Jury report that faulted the county’s savings scheme for the North County Jail’s $17.3 million annual operating costs. Released in June, the report didn’t envision a successful execution of the plan which has seen growing tax revenues set aside incrementally since 2011 or a strong likelihood that the board, now and in the future, would stick to it. Instead, the jury wrote, salary and budget freezes would likely join layoffs and tax hikes to make up the difference if the economy doesn’t yield the revenue needed for the plan to work.
But where the Grand Jury said the plan depended on property-tax increases of no less than 3.5 percent yearly, county officials countered that the funding plan actually only needs one percent growth to work. Similarly, the county won’t have to funnel as much as 28 percent of that growth to its savings account (as the report hypothesized) but can manage with smaller allotments. The Grand Jury took particular issue with how the plan would function in conjunction with the extra property-tax monies going toward County Fire, a move approved in 2012; coupling that slice of the pie with the jail’s would mean dwindling dollars for other departments, the jury warned. But county number crunchers say there will still be more than 70 percent of tax growth left over for other departments.
Where the Grand Jury made a good point, county staff said, was in its finding that the Assessor’s office could benefit from more employees to handle its workload. Last year, said Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Joe Holland, his office didn’t finish all the work it needed to for the first time in 12 years. He cited staffing reductions and lack of time and resources to train new hires. Holland said three new appraisers and one new analyst would help.
Supervisor Doreen Farr pointed to how the supervisors dealt with the recession as a litmus test for how the county will fare with its jail-funding plan. “We were really tested over the past five years, and we did what had to be done, and we kept county government going. That is our responsibility,” she said. “I know we’ll deal with it successfully.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

(Solano County) VCUSD board submits responses to grand jury reports

August 27, 2014
Vallejo Times-Herald
By John Glidden

Concluding that Vallejo City Unified School District Superintendent Ramona Bishop did not release confidential student information when she sent an email containing the last names of two students to Vallejo's mayor, the VCUSD board, the Solano County District Attorney's Office and the Vallejo Chief of Police last February, the VCUSD board Wednesday unanimously approved an official response to the July 8, 2014 Solano County Grand Jury report "Release of Confidential Information by the Vallejo Unified School District."
In its official response, the board wrote that "(the VCUSD board) conducted an investigation of those concerns through an outside investigator and, based upon the investigative report, concluded that no wrong-doing or improper disclosure of confidential information (by Bishop) had occurred in February 2014."
The grand jury report stemmed from a February incident when a minor student was arrested by Vallejo police for possessing a pellet gun on Vallejo High School grounds and another minor student was released into the care of high school officials.
After the incident, Bishop sent the email, which the grand jury found fault with, stating "with the (VCUSD) official's handling of a serious incident and the release of confidential information pertaining to minors in violation of Welfare and Institutions Code 827 governing the dissemination of juvenile information."
In its response, the board highlights that the Welfare and Institutions Code 827 deals with "all records contained in a juvenile court case file, including all documents filed in a juvenile court case, are protected from disclosure ... The July 8, 2014 Report does not indicate that any court records were inspected, or include that after inspection that information from those records was disclosed."
The board further writes: "However, and notwithstanding Welfare and Institutions Code 827, school district officials are required to maintain the confidentiality of minors' identities when they are taken into custody by law enforcement."
According to the grand jury report, "The police arrested one minor for misdemeanor possession of a replica firearm (pellet gun) on school grounds. The minor was later cited and released to his parents."
The board response further explains that "In general, both the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the California Education Code define pupil records as any information directly related to a pupil that is maintained by the school district."
Board trustee Hazel Wilson said that once the board was aware of the incident and email, an investigation was begun.
"Prior to the (grand jury) report we had done our due diligence," she said.
The board also approved a response to the June 13, 2014 grand jury report, "Security Impact on Graduation Rates in Solano County High Schools," in which the grand jury reviewed all 10 comprehensive high schools in Solano County. However, the report reserved much of its criticism for the two Vallejo sites, pointing out that they have higher dropout, truancy and suspension rates than the other eight.
The grand jury recommended the Vallejo schools have school resource officers to reduce defiance and disruptions in classrooms.
Citing a Congressional Report, the district contends that the use of school resource officers may could result in more children being involved with the criminal justice system
"However, the District does not view SROs as the only or even primary investment the District can or should make in ensuring campus safety and decreased dropout rates," according to the district response.
In its official response, the district stipulates that "The District recently implemented a District-wide disciplinary approach focused on restorative justice where staff consistently clarify their expectations and enforce a culture of accountability."
The district further states, "The District believes strongly that simply "getting tough" in order to stop misbehavior — often in the form of "zero tolerance" policies — rarely works, especially with children."
Wilson critiqued the grand jury for not using information supplied by the district.
"We (the district) sent binders of information, data, detailed program information (to the grand jury)," Bishop said during the meeting.
"You (the grand jury) had the information," Wilson said. "The (grand jury) report does not reflect the information."
The board agreed to re-agendize the official responses for the next meeting to allow the general public to address the board, if desired.