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JPA

Nearly 100 community leaders gathered April 5 for the official announcement of a proposed joint public agency to support community learning centers, mental health services and school resource officers.

Lincoln Board of Education member Barb Baier wants a written agreement saying school discipline would be the first and primary recourse for handling student misbehavior before she would support the creation of a joint public agency to add school resource officers to middle schools.

“I have a lot of concerns about school resource officers in our middle schools,” she said during a work session Monday on the proposed JPA between the City Council and Lincoln Public Schools. 

Baier said a draft of a memorandum of understanding designed to address concerns of community members that the presence of school resource officers could result in more students being referred to the juvenile justice system would be available for the school board to review at its meeting Tuesday.

The memorandum also would require documentation of juvenile court referrals broken down by race and other demographic categories.

She said national studies have shown that having school resource officers results in more kids entering the juvenile justice system, especially marginalized students and students of color — even though it doesn’t appear to be happening now in Lincoln.

“This is meant to go and strengthen what we already do,” she said.

Baier's concerns were among those raised by school board members Monday about the proposed JPA, a quasi-governmental agency that could levy up to one 1 cent per $100 of assessed property valuation — about $2 million the first year.

The money would be used to add six school resource officers to the district’s 12 middle schools, provide additional mental health services to students and support community learning center before- and after-school programs.

Other critics of the plan have questioned why creating a separate governing body is necessary when the same goals could be accomplished through interlocal agreements.

Proponents argue that a JPA increases transparency and accountability and creates a protected funding source for the priorities enumerated in the JPA contract.

The city and LPS already have an interlocal agreement to put a school resource officer at each of the six high schools, and they both contribute to the community learning center programs.

School board President Lanny Boswell said board members will need to ask a lot of questions about whether what they want to accomplish can be handled best through interlocal agreements or a JPA.

“I think that’s what we need to wrestle with over the next three weeks,” he said. 

Setting up the JPA — which would include the mayor, two council members and three school board members — ultimately will require approval of the City Council and Board of Education.

Several board members said they liked a provision that would require approval by at least two city representatives and two school board representatives to assure that neither group could dominate decisions under the agreement.

They also liked that a nonprofit organization comprised of members of the lead agencies and others involved with the community learning centers would act as an advisory group to the JPA.

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Boswell said he’d like to find a way to give the nonprofit more than advisory power with the JPA.

The agreement assures at least 40 percent of the JPA's funding would be used for the community learning centers and up to 30 percent of the funding would be used for school resource officers and a threat-assessment officer at the Lincoln Police Department.

There is no similar guarantee of funding for the mental health services, which includes adding one additional social worker at LPS.

LPS would pay for 35 percent of the cost of the resource officers, an arrangement it now has with the high schools.

Some board members noted that some parents want SROs at all the middle schools, and Boswell wondered if funding would be available for additional officers if the district builds two more middle schools recommended in its 10-year building plan.

LPS officials said that might need to be handled through interlocal agreements. Board member Don Mayhew noted the school board and City Council also could amend the JPA proposal.

First reading on the JPA proposal will be at the April 24 Board of Education meeting.

Officials have scheduled a public forum on the proposal April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Southwest High School.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Boswell said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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