PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Portland school board member Julia Brim-Edwards thinks Portland Public Schools got a raw deal in its negotiations with the city police bureau to pay for more policing in schools.
As a result, she expects the school board will put on hold the contract it approved to spend up to $1.2 million a year to deploy nine Portland Police officers full-time in the state’s largest school district. Currently, the officers work in schools three-quarters time and the city provides them at no cost to the district.
Back in December, the board of education voted to move forward with a contract to authorize paying the city for those nine officers to patrol its nine high schools full-time. The lead-up to that vote drew ire from students and local activists who said the school board didn’t give dissenting voices the time to make their case.
District officials and the Portland Police Bureau have framed the idea as formalizing a practice that already exists, but that skirts the fact that the five-year agreement represents a new expenditure for the school district.
She wants the school board to suspend the original agreement and seek more input. The Portland school board veteran, who returned to the body after serving one term from 2001 to 2005, told her fellow board members Tuesday that she would seek to pull back the agreement at their next meeting.
Brim-Edwards said the police bureau gave the board a “false deadline” of Dec. 31. The message from the city was: Agree to pay millions for school resource officers by that date or watch the bureau pull officers from Portland schools.
“We were presented with the proposition that if we did not approve the (inter-governmental agreement), that the City of Portland would de-fund the school resource officers,” Brim-Edwards told the board at the tail end of a four-hour meeting.
The school board rushed to pass the resolution under those pretenses, Brim-Edwards said. Mayor Ted Wheeler and the city council were supposed to take it from there, but it’s been more than three weeks since the year-end deadline passed and the City Council still hasn’t voted on the agreement.
“It was sort of a betrayal of what we were told,” Brim-Edwards told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Board member Amy Kohnstamm brought up the police bureau’s proposed timeline for approving the contract at the board’s Dec. 11 meeting. She abstained from the vote, citing a desire to re-work the agreement before she could make a decision. Board member Scott Bailey abstained on similar grounds - he pushed to postpone a vote until February.
“We didn’t feel like we had sufficient time to talk with students and talk this through,” Kohnstamm said. “I was not convinced that the timeline we were presented with was particularly urgent.”
Julia Esparza-Brown, the only board member of color, voted against the contract.
The vote came under further scrutiny when a former Portland activist tweeted about his jarring experience with a school resource officer in Beaverton nearly a decade ago.
Portland’s Resistance founder Gregory McKelvey’s 24-tweet thread reinforced the critique that putting police in schools criminalizes teen misconduct better dealt by school disciplinarians. Proponents of putting officers in schools said having police walk the halls and get to know students helps teenagers receive rehabilitation rather than a rap sheet.
McKelvey said he put his story out there in hopes of swaying the five-member Portland City Council to reject the contract approved by the school board. City Hall hasn’t yet signaled when commissioners might take up the matter.
A 24-tweet thread by a prominent Portland activist has further fueled the debate over school resource officers.
According to a proposed resolution Brim-Edwards provided fellow board members Tuesday, she wants to suspend the cost-sharing provisions the school board agreed to.
She wants to allow board members to offer other suggestions before putting a final resolution to a vote. Brim-Edwards told the board she also wants to give students more time to offer their input on the school district’s contract with Portland police.
“We were hurried into something that turns out it was a false timeline. This provides us the timeline to act appropriately and engage with our students before we move ahead,” she said.
School board member Scott Bailey chimed in to propose gathering input from another affected group. “The engagement needs to include staff as well as students,” he said.
Board Chair Rita Moore, looking to head finish the late meeting without delay, leaned into her microphone to tell her colleagues they weren’t discussing officers in schools until their next meeting.
The board passed its business agenda unanimously in a voice vote, then adjourned.
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