Despite a plea from the Santa Barbara police chief, the Santa Barbara school board balked Tuesday night at approving a proposal to hire two gang-intervention specialists who would work with disaffected youths and their families.
However, the board did approve a dress code ordinance Tuesday night that prohibits oversized clothing and paves the way for individual schools to craft more restrictive bans that could target apparel that administrators deem to be gang-related.
On the intervention specialists, the board in a 3-2 vote decided it wanted to wait until after Friday, when the board is scheduled to have its biannual meeting with the City Council, before making its decision. Also known as “outreach workers,” the specialists would cost the district about $133,000 annually. District administrators are asking for a five-year commitment.
“I don’t think I see a complete overarching plan; this is a piece of a plan,” said board member Kate Parker who, with Bob Noel and Nancy Harter, voted to wait until after Friday. Voting against the wait were board members Annette Cordero and Laura Malakoff. It wasn’t clear on Tuesday how long the wait will be.
Administrators in the city and schools have been key players in a nascent community-wide effort called the South Coast Task Force on Youth Gangs. Their latest specific ideas have yet to be discussed extensively in public by the City Council or the school board, but that process is expected to begin Friday.
The general idea of the task force is to put in place a comprehensive five-year action plan that would coordinate existing disparate organizations that provide services to the youths, hire gang-intervention specialists and hire a person to act as executive director.
As for the proposal floated to the school board Tuesday night, the specialists would be paid nearly $49,000 a year, plus benefits. That’s about $6,000 more than beginning teachers make. They would spend some time on the campuses, but also venture into surrounding neighborhoods to speak with parents about the risky behavior of their children.
Cordero lamented the board’s hesitation.
“We have students in crisis right now in our high schools and junior high schools that we can start to address,” she said. “This absolutely cannot be our entire plan, but it can be the beginning.”
Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez made a special appearance to urge the board to approve the funding for the specialists. “I need your help, I need you to make this happen,” he said.
The proposal for two specialists was actually a scaled-down version of an earlier request by the school district’s administration.
About a month ago, the board sent back to the drawing board a proposal to hire five or six full-time staff members for the position. The item would have cost the school district at least $330,000 annually.
Since then, the official title of the employees has changed — to “outreach workers” — but their basic charge has not: being a resource to gang members and their families. If passed, one outreach worker would be stationed in schools on each of the east and west sides of town.
Meanwhile, the dress-code matter was approved in a 4-1 vote with little discussion, with board member Annette Cordero dissenting.
Cordero said the wording of the oversized-clothing rule was insufficiently vague, which she fears could lead to profiling. “When there’s too much discretion, it can get targeted at a very specific population,” she said.
Board President Laura Malakoff sought to sharpen the language somewhat in the sentence “Pants worn below the waist and oversized or bagging pants are not permitted” by adding the word “well” before “below.”
The proposed oversized-clothing amendment is a watered-down version of a more comprehensive proposal that was pitched to the board about four months ago. That one, floated in May, would have outlawed wearing white T-shirts when worn with another black or blue T-shirt, knee-length socks when worn with long shorts, and haircuts, jewelry or other accessories denoting membership in a gang.
Board members declined to approve it, saying it seemed to infringe on the first-amendment rights of students.
An opinion from the district’s legal counsel later revealed that adopting the original proposal would have put the district on shaky legal ground, Gonzalez said. But, he added, the California Education Code does allow individual schools to institute such bans, provided the school rules are approved by the school board.
Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.