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Critics decry LAUSD growing police budget to $59 million

Not a single iPad has turned up missing at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, according to Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines wants to increase the budget for school police to $59 million in the next school year.

Protesters crowded into a Los Angeles Unified's public hearing Tuesday on the district's $8 billion budget to demand officials do away with school police.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines proposed growing the school police budget by about $2 million, bringing the department's total funding to $59 million for the 2015-2016 school year.

The district runs the largest school police department in the country with more than 350 officers. The armed staff supervise students who walk to and from school under a safe passage program and perform other duties related to campus security.

Cortines has not explained why he is seeking the increase in funding for the school police. 

Last fall, school police estimated they would need 80 new officers to protect students walking home from school with iPads. The department later retracted the statement.

The school police issue drew spirited protests at the hearing, with some speakers shouting over board members.

As the discussion on police shootings grows nationwide, activist and former student Jose Gallegos said South L.A. students don’t feel safe around officers with guns.

“Because all these are young people who dealt with trauma, who come from streets and dealt with a lot of stuff," Gallegos said. 

The board carved out time for 75 public speakers on the district's funding priorities. When Gallegos' remarks exceeded the two-minute limit, he was asked to step down. 

"I'm angry right now," Gallegos said. "I'm going to stay up here." 

Security was called in, and the frustrated speaker ran out of the boardroom. 

Students living in communities such as Watts are more likely to feel harassed than protected by police, according to Ruth Cusick, an attorney for Public Counsel, a legal advocacy group.

"Our school district has a fundamental misunderstanding about the interaction with law enforcement in our community," Cusick said.

The school police department drew scrutiny last fall after reports that it owned an armored tank, grenade launchers and more than 60 assault rifles from the military surplus program. The district later returned some of the weapons.

Last year, Public Counsel and other advocacy organizations urged the school district not to steer money earmarked for English learners, foster youth and low-income students into the police budget.

This year, their demands were met, and school police will instead be paid out of general funds.

School police were not available last night to address the concerns raised by the speakers, but department leaders have said they are reducing punitive practices and pivoting toward student mentorship. 

The hearing was intended to meet California school funding law requirements for districts to consider public input before finalizing their budget priorities.

Some 59 parents, students and community members took the mic at the hearing, but many community members left before being heard as district presentations by administrators drew out the meeting. 

Board member Tamar Galatzan was absent, and board member Monica Garcia departed before speakers finished. All other board members remained until the end of the hearing.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the school police funding as well as the rest of the district budget next Tuesday.