The La Crosse Board of Education president is “not comfortable” renewing a $250,000 contract with the police department that pays for five police officers to serve in the district’s schools.
Board president Laurie Cooper Stoll called for the formation of a sub-committee at Monday’s meeting of the board to consider ending the contract with the police department and reallocating the funds.
“To be clear, there is no conclusive, empirical evidence that shows having police officers in schools makes them safer. However, there is ample evidence to show that it makes black and brown students less safe,” Cooper Stoll said. “I am not insinuating a causal link here, but I do think it’s worth noting, in all the years that we have had police in our schools, we continue to have a racial disparity when it comes to discipline.”
The rate of out-of-school suspension is 65% higher for students of color in the La Crosse School District, according to Cooper Stoll. For black students, the out-of-school suspension rate is five times higher than that of white students, and students who have had a suspension face a much higher risk of dropping out.
She noted that spending on the School Resource Officer program, which pays to put police officers in the district’s high and middle schools, has increased from $170,000 in 2015, to $250,000 now. She suggested it was worth considering why the money was spent on police, instead of on social workers or counsellors.
Cooper Stoll proposed the board vote at a meeting next Monday on forming the subcommittee to investigate reallocating the $250,000 and then return with recommendations in October that could inform budget decisions for the next year. She noted the board could terminate its contract with the police department with seven days notice, but that was not what she was proposing. The official end date of the contract is in June 2021.
“I am not comfortable at this moment, renewing that contract with the police,” Cooper Stoll said, adding that the issue of police in schools has been well studied and she was not convinced “that what we need is one more study.” However, if the board votes to form the sub-committee, it would likely seek input from parents, students and other stakeholders about the issue.
Another school board member, Keonte Turner, released a statement after the board meeting saying he would likely vote to end the contract with the police department, if given the opportunity to do so.
“My sentiment is to vote against it: I am for safety in our schools, but schools are not prisons, we do not need ‘guards’. I believe the monies should be allocated to more cultural liaisons and counselors in the schools,” Turner said.
Cooper Stoll noted during Monday’s meeting that the district has spent heavily to increase safety at district schools over recent years, aside from the money it spends on the contract with the police.
“By my accounting, we have spent several million dollars making our schools quote safe in the last several years,” she said, noting the district had recently spent $4 million on secure entrances, in addition to multiple other building safety projects.
Watch a recording of the June 15 school board meeting here:
*This story was updated June 17 to change a statistic quoted by Laurie Cooper Stoll. She said during the school board meeting that “over 90% of students that are suspended in our schools are students of color.” That was a misreading of the data. In fact, the rate of out-of-school suspension is 65% higher for students of color in the La Crosse School District. For black students, the out-of-school suspension rate is five times higher than that of white students.