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Local News

Budget, Gang Prevention Joint Priorities of City, Schools

Finances, youths focus of meeting between Santa Barbara council, school district

The Santa Barbara City Council and Santa Barbara School District discussed their budgets and joint-interest programs on Wednesday.

Both organizations have structural deficits but expect to have balanced budgets for the 2011-12 year through “budget craftsmanship” and one-time spending cuts, according to school district Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith and city Finance Director Bob Samario.

They have different revenue sources — the city relies mostly on local taxes, and the schools depend on state funding — and both intend to use employee concessions to make up the bulk of the deficit, if they can be negotiated.

The issue of gang prevention and intervention hits close to home for both groups. Gus Frias, the full-time South Coast Gang Task Force coordinator, encouraged leaders to include gang-related policies in school safety plans and educate students and teachers about the consequences of labeling someone as a gang member and participating in a gang.

Santa Barbara Junior High School’s CORE Program works with at-risk seventh- and eighth-graders who are behind in academics, have bad behavior and/or have troubled home lives. Principal John Becchio and teacher Mark Fidel said the program improved 55 percent of the students’ grade point averages by one point or more in 2010.

Fidel said he had no idea what he was getting into four years ago when CORE started, and doing home visits to the families of the 15 boys and 15 girls in the classes gave him a new perspective on what some students are dealing with outside of school. The program makes school leaders approachable instead of punitive and gives students tools to succeed after they go on to high school.

When Fidel told one mother that her son would graduate eighth grade, she cried, saying it was the first time someone from school had given her good news.

“Nobody wants anything else but what’s best for their child,” Fidel said.

Becchio will be principal of Santa Barbara High School next year and said he wants to continue the program so the students don’t “get lost” once they leave, as some have.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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