Clovis Unified pays for the salaries and supplies of its police department, including firearms and ammunition, with money earmarked for the needs of low-income, foster youth and English learner students.
The district’s Local Control Accountability Plan includes approximately $1.5 million to fund school resource officers, with just over $741,000 of the allotted sum going toward the salaries of 16 Clovis Unified Police Department officers, according to the district’s budget. District spokeswoman Kelly Avants said on average, the district spends around $3,600 on firearms and $2,281 on ammunition every year.
The district notes in the LCAP that it believes that the expenditure is the “most effective means of decreasing student discipline, decreasing truancy, enhancing school safety and providing a positive school culture particularly with the EL, LI, and FY student populations.”
But the spending drew criticism from American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California staff attorney Abre’ Conner, who called it an “egregious misallocation of funds by the Clovis school district.”
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“We believe that school resource officers should only be used as a last resort for addressing problems on campus,” she said. “Given the school district’s history of rejecting opportunities to address implicit and explicit bias against vulnerable student populations, adding deadly weapons should not be used as a quick fix for minor school discipline issues that will likely harm students of color the most.”
Whether and how schools can buy guns has been the subject of national conversation since the New York Times reported that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would consider opening up federal funds for such purchases.
The Clovis Unified Police Department was formed in 1985, making the district one of 23 in California, out of almost 1,000 districts total, to have its own police agency. And although California law bans guns on school campuses in almost all cases, security personnel are an exception.
“It was a case where the board wanted a force that is dedicated to us,” Avants said. “We know there will always be that entity that serves our schools.”
New funding formula
And while the police department is not new, the way it’s paid for is. California enacted the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013, changing the way that public schools receive state funding. All schools receive a base grant that’s calculated on Average Daily Attendance, plus supplemental funds based on their unduplicated percentage of targeted disadvantaged pupils, like English learners, foster youth and students from low-income backgrounds.
Around 41 percent of students at Clovis Unified fall into one or more of those categories compared to 88.2 percent at Fresno Unified.
Districts can also receive concentration funds, which are reserved for districts whose percentage of targeted students exceeds 55 percent. Clovis does not receive any concentration funds.
Supplemental funds must be “used to increase or improve services for unduplicated pupils as compared to the services provided to all pupils,” but can otherwise be spent at a district’s discretion.
Still, firearms seem to be a unique purchase.
Troy Flint, a spokesman for the California School Boards Association, said the organization is unaware of any other district using supplemental funds for firearms.
“As far as we’re aware, there’s no policy which specifically forbids the use of money for this purpose, but since it’s unconventional, that’s not exactly surprising,” Flint said.
Robert Oakes, a spokesman for the California Department of Education, also said he personally had not heard of other districts buying firearms, but would look into the matter further.
Fresno Unified experience
Clovis is not the first local district to use state funds to pay for security.
The ACLU filed a grievance against Fresno Unified last year because the district was using supplemental and concentration funds to fund additional resource officers on campus. The complaint led the district to revise its LCAP.
Fresno Unified spokesman Miguel Arias said the district has never purchased firearms. Fresno Unified has campus safety assistants whose salaries are paid for by the district, but who are not armed. The district contracts with the Fresno Police Department to place officers on school campuses instead, and those officers do carry guns.
Avants said that CUSD police officers typically have prior law enforcement experience, and the department has been certified by the state.
She also said she does not think that the idea floated by DeVos’ office would affect Clovis Unified, because the police department operates as any other local law enforcement agency.
“We already have authority to purchase such weapons and ammunition for use by our sworn officers,” Avants said.
An armed presence is not meant to be a scare tactic, but is absolutely necessary to school safety, said Steve France, Clovis Unified assistant superintendent for educational services.
“Back in the day, you’d see a police car on campus and ask, ‘Why are the police here?’” France said. “But these days, it’s an expectation our community has. It’s more like, you don’t see an officer and you ask, “Where are the police?’”
CUSD police officers also have a proactive presence on campus, according to Capt. Jerry Inchaurregui, often building relationships with students and acting as a deterrent to truancy and misbehavior. Some officers coach sports, and all are involved with their campus’ safety planning.
Inchaurregui said he would not support a proposal to arm teachers.
“Teachers are there to nurture and educate kids,” he said. “It’s best to leave law enforcement to deal with weapons on campus.”
The officers’ presence rattled Clovis North junior Zofia Trexler, who said she was surprised to see guns on the belts of the officers she encountered during her first week at the school.
Trexler has been involved in the Fresno chapter of the March for Our Lives movement.
“Their presence might make some people feel safe, but there are a lot of marginalized groups who feel negatively impacted,” Trexler said. “When I see them on campus, I think someone is being arrested, or there’s going to be a problem in my AP English class.”